Shrove Tuesday (known in some countries as Pancake Day) is a day in February or
March, preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), which is celebrated in
some countries by consuming pancakes.
Shrove Tuesday, a moveable festival, is determined by Easter. The expression "Shrove
Tuesday" comes from the word shrive, meaning "confess". Shrove Tuesday is
observed by many Christians, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and
Roman Catholics, who "make a special point of self-examination, of
considering what wrongs they need to repent, and what amendments of life or
areas of spiritual growth they especially need to ask God's help in dealing with."
Being the last day before the penitential season of Lent, related popular
practices, such as indulging in food that one sacrifices for the upcoming forty
days, are associated with Shrove Tuesday celebrations, before commencing the
fasting and religious obligations associated with Lent. The term Mardi Gras is
French for "Fat Tuesday", referring to the practice of the last night of eating
richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins
on Ash Wednesday.
Like many other European holidays, the pancake day was originally a pagan
holiday. Before the Christian era, the Slavs believed that the change of
seasons was a struggle between Jarilo, the god of vegetation, fertility and
springtime, and the evil spirits of cold and darkness. People believed that they
had to help Jarilo fight against winter and bring in the spring. The most
important part of Shrovetide week (the whole celebration of the arrival of
spring lasted one week) was making and eating pancakes. The hot, round pancakes
symbolized the sun. The Slavs believed that by eating pancakes, they got the
power, light and warmth of the sun. The first pancake was usually put on a
window for the spirits of the ancestors. On the last day of Shrovetide week
some pancakes and other food were burnt in a bonfire as a sacrifice to the pagan
The word shrove is a form of the English word shrive, which means to obtain
absolution for one's sins by way of Confession and doing penance. Thus Shrove
Tuesday gets its name from the custom for Christians to be "shriven" before the
start of Lent. Shrove Tuesday is the last day of "shrovetide", somewhat
analogous to the Carnival tradition that developed separately in countries of
- In the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and Canada, Shrove Tuesday is known as
"Pancake Day" or "Pancake Tuesday" due to the tradition of eating pancakes on
- Catholic and Protestant countries (outside those mentioned above) traditionally
call the day before Ash Wednesday "Fat Tuesday" or "Mardi Gras". The name
predated the Reformation and referred to the common Christian tradition of
eating special rich foods before the fasting season of Lent.
- For German American populations, such as Pennsylvania Dutch Country, it is known
as Fastnacht Day (also spelled Fasnacht, Fausnacht, Fauschnaut, or Fosnacht).
- In the Netherlands it is known as "vastenavond", or in Limburgish dialect: "vastelaovond",
though the word "vastelaovond" usually refers to the entire period of carnival
in the Netherlands.
- In Portuguese-, Spanish- and Italian-speaking countries, among others, it is
known as Carnival (to use the English spelling). This derives from the words
carne levare (to take away meat) and thus to another aspect of the Lenten fast.
It is often celebrated with street processions or fancy dress. The most famous
of these events is the Brazilian Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, while the Venetians
celebrate carnival with a masquerade. The use of the term "carnival" in other
contexts derives from here.
- On the Portuguese island of Madeira they eat malasadas on Terça-feira Gorda (Fat
Tuesday in English) which is also the last day of the Carnival of Madeira. The
reason for making malasadas was to use up all the lard and sugar in the house,
in preparation for Lent (much in the same way the tradition of Pancake Day in
the UK originated on Shrove Tuesday). malasadas are sold alongside the Carnival
of Madeira. This tradition was taken to Hawaii, where Shrove Tuesday is known as
Malasada Day, which dates back to the days of the sugar plantations of the
1800s, the resident Catholic Portuguese (mostly from Madeira and the Azores)
workers used up butter and sugar prior to Lent by making large batches of
- In Denmark and Norway the day is known as Fastelavn and is marked by eating
fastelavnsboller. Fastelavn is the name for Carnival in Denmark which is either
the Sunday or Monday before Ash Wednesday. Fastelavn developed from the Roman
Catholic tradition of celebrating in the days before Lent, but after Denmark
became a Protestant nation, the holiday became less specifically religious. This
holiday occurs seven weeks before Easter Sunday, with children dressing up in
costumes and gathering treats for the Fastelavn feast. The holiday is generally
considered to be a time for children's fun and family games.
- In Iceland the day is known as Sprengidagur (Bursting Day) and is marked by
eating salted meat and peas.
- In Lithuania the day is called Užgavėnės. People eat pancakes (blynai) and
Lithuanian-style doughnuts called spurgos.
In Sweden the day is called Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday) and is generally
celebrated by eating a type of pastry called semla.
- In Finland the day is called laskiainen and is generally celebrated by eating
green pea soup and a pastry called laskiaispulla (sweet bread filled with
whipped cream and jam or almond paste). The celebration often includes sledging.
- In Estonia the day is called Vastlapäev and is generally celebrated by eating
pea soup and whipped-cream or whipped-cream and jam filled sweet-buns called
vastlakukkel. Children also typically go sledding on this day.
- In Poland, a related celebration falls on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and
is called tłusty czwartek (Fat Thursday).
- In Slovenia Kurentovanje is also the biggest and best known carnival in Slovenia.
There are several more local carnivals: for example in west Slovenia, a very
well known carnival takes place in Cerkno. This carnival is usually referred to
- In some parts of Switzerland (e.g. Lucerne) the day is called Güdisdienstag,
preceded by Güdismontag. According to the Duden (semi-official dictionary of the
German language), the term derives from "Güdel", which means a fat stomach full
- In some areas of the United States with large Polish communities, such as
Chicago, Buffalo and Michigan, Paczki Day is celebrated with pączki-eating
contests, music and other Polish food. It may be held on Shrove Tuesday or in
the days immediately preceding it.
Pancakes are associated with the day preceding Lent because they were a way to
use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of
the 40 days of Lent. The liturgical fasting emphasized eating plainer food and
refraining from food that would give pleasure: in many cultures, this means no
meat, dairy products, or eggs.
In Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Ireland the day is also known as
"Pancake Day" as it is a common custom to eat pancakes as a meal.
In Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island small tokens are frequently cooked in the
pancakes. Children take delight in discovering the objects, which are intended
to be divinatory. For example, the person who receives a coin will be wealthy; a
nail indicates that they will become or marry a carpenter.
In England, as part of community celebration, many towns held traditional Shrove
Tuesday "mob football" games, some dating as far back as the 12th century. The
practice mostly died out in the 19th century after the passing of the Highway
Act 1835 which banned playing football on public highways. A number of towns
have maintained the tradition, including Alnwick in Northumberland, Ashbourne in
Derbyshire (called the Royal Shrovetide Football), Atherstone in Warwickshire (called
simply the Atherstone Ball Game), St Columb Major in Cornwall (called Hurling
the Silver Ball), and Sedgefield in County Durham.
Shrove Tuesday was once known as a "half-holiday" in Britain. It started at
11:00am with the ringing of a church bell. On Pancake Day, "pancake races"
are held in villages and towns across the United Kingdom. The tradition is said
to have originated in 1445 when a housewife from Olney, Buckinghamshire, was so
busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells
ringing for the service. She raced out of the house to church while still
carrying her frying pan and pancake, tossing it to prevent it from burning.
The pancake race remains a relatively common festive tradition in the UK,
especially England, even today. Participants with frying pans race through the
streets tossing pancakes into the air and catching them in the pan while
The most famous pancake race, at Olney in Buckinghamshire, has been held
since 1445. The contestants, traditionally women, carry a frying pan and race
over a 415 yard course to the finishing line. The rules are strict: contestants
have to toss their pancake at both the start and the finish, as well as wear an
apron and a scarf. Traditionally, when men want to participate, they must dress
up as a housewife (usually an apron and a bandanna). The race is followed by a
Since 1950 the people of Liberal, Kansas, and Olney have held the "International
Pancake Day" race between the two towns. The two towns' competitors race along
an agreed-upon measured course. The times of the two towns' competitors are
compared to determine a winner overall. After the 2009 race, Liberal was leading
with 34 wins to Olney's 25. A similar race is held in North Somercotes in
Scarborough celebrates by closing the foreshore to all traffic, closing schools
early, and inviting all to skip. Traditionally, long ropes were used from the
nearby harbour. The town crier rings the pancake bell, situated on the corner of
Westborough (main street) and Huntress Row.
The children of the hamlet of Whitechapel, Lancashire keep alive a local
tradition by visiting local households and asking "please a pancake", to be
rewarded with oranges or sweets. It is thought the tradition arose when farm
workers visited the wealthier farm and manor owners to ask for pancakes or
In Finland and Sweden the day is associated with the almond paste-filled semla
Pancakes are traditional in Christian festivals in Ukraine and Russia also at
this time of year (Maslenitsa).
In London, the Rehab Parliamentary Pancake Race takes place every Shrove Tuesday,
with teams from the British lower house (the House of Commons), the upper house
(the House of Lords), and the Fourth Estate, contending for the title of
Parliamentary Pancake Race Champions. The fun relay race is to raise awareness
of Rehab, which provides a range of health and social care, training, education,
and employment services in the UK for disabled people and others who are
marginalised. In 2009 the Upper House won. The race was then won by the Lower
House in 2010 with the Upper House reclaiming their winning title in 2011. In
2012, the Lower House were crowned the pancake flipping champions and they
reclaimed their title for the second year running in 2013.
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