by Shane Foster
Pancake Day, or to give it its correct name ‘Shrove Tuesday’, is the day before the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday) and is traditionally observed by most Christians around the world by eating pancakes or other sweets.
Whilst this is an important time in the Christian calendar where many take the opportunity for self reflection, I’ve often wondered where the association with pancakes comes from. In fact, given that the expression Shrove Tuesday is derived from the word ‘shrive’ which means absolve, it still seems rather odd that we associate it with eating sweet things.
Well it all dates back to the middle ages when the eating of pancakes, or other foods using butter, eggs and fat or lard, were made in order to use up the ingredients in preparation for the period of absolving from such treats.
For that very reason, across the UK and the many commonwealths, it has become traditional to associate Shrove Tuesday with feasting on one of our most popular foodstuffs, and has become more commonly known as Pancake Day.
In fact, in Irish the day is known as “Máirt Inide” which simply means the beginning of Lent, and elsewhere the day has also become known as “Mardi Gras” which means ‘Fat Tuesday’ due to the celebratory meal of the day.
Elsewhere around the world it has many other names, such as “Fastnachtsdienstag” or “Veilchendienstag” in Germany, the latter of which means ‘Violet [as in the flower] Tuesday’ where it is celebrated in many areas with fancy dress - now that’s my idea of celebrating Pancake Day!
Having researched how this day is observed in other parts of the world, i am particularly drawn to the Netherlands where they celebrate “vastelaovend” which refers to an entire period of carnival - let’s get packed and ready to go - or in Switzerland where the day is known as “Güdisdienstag” which is derived from the word ‘Güdel’, which means a fat belly stuffed full of food - now that’s my idea of a super day!
Of course, the most famous of all celebrations around the world is that of the Brazilian Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, which takes place across the entire week in which Shrove Tuesday falls, where the locals have long celebrated the carnival with a masquerade.
In earlier centuries in the UK there have been several ways we have celebrated Pancake Day, including mob football which was popular during the 17th Century until laws were introduced to ban playing football on public highways, although some towns still celebrate this tradition.
In some villages and towns there is the tradition of pancake races, which has become a firm favourite for many, and is still popular in schools today.
However you choose to celebrate, make sure you have a great day, and don’t eat too many pancakes!