Why do we eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday / Mardi Gras?
(pancake recipe link at the bottom of this post)
Shrove Tuesday is the day before Lent starts (Ash Wednesday). It is also known as Mardi Gras from the French, meaning literally "fat Tuesday", and is increasingly referred to as Pancake Day after the fried batter recipe traditionally eaten on this day.
But there's more to Shrove Tuesday than merely pigging out on pancakes or taking part in a public pancake race (sadly a tradition that appears to be dying out). The pancakes themselves are part of an ancient custom with deeply religious roots.
Why do we eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday?
Lent is a time of abstinence, of giving things up. So Shrove Tuesday is the last chance to indulge yourself and to use up the foods that aren't allowed in Lent. Pancakes are traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday because they contain fat, butter and eggs - ingredients which were all forbidden during Lent.
During Lent, Christians used to fast, and Orthodox Christians still commonly give up meat and dairy products. It is however more common nowadays for some people to give up their favourite foods - such as chocolate, sweets, crisps or alcohol - and try to resist giving into temptation during Lent.
Why is it called Shrove Tuesday?
Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the ritual of shriving that Christians used to undergo in the past. In shriving, a person confesses their sins and receives absolution for them. When a person receives absolution for their sins, they are forgiven for them and released from the guilt and pain that they have caused them. In the Catholic or Orthodox context, the absolution is pronounced by a priest.
When is Shrove Tuesday?
Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday and is the final day before the start of Lent, the Christian festival leading up to Easter Sunday.
Shrove Tuesday is always 47 days before Easter Sunday and can therefore fall any time between 03 February and 09 March.
Why is Shrove Tuesday 47 days before Easter and not 41, since Lent lasts for 40 days? A fine question (and one worth remembering for quiz nights). Lent is indeed the forty days before Easter...but excluding Sundays which are days of celebration in the Christian church and are thus excluded from the 40 days of Lent.
Shrove Tuesday history and celebrations
Shrove Tuesday is a day of celebration as well as penitence, because it's the last day before Lent.
As Lent is a time of abstinence, of giving things up, Shrove Tuesday is thus the last chance to indulge yourself and to use up the foods that aren't allowed in Lent. During Lent there are many foods that some Christians would not eat: foods such as meat and fish, fats, eggs, and milky foods.
So that no food was wasted, families would have a feast on the shriving Tuesday, and eat up all the foods that wouldn't last the forty days of Lent without going off.
The need to eat up the fats gave rise to the French name Mardi Gras ('fat Tuesday'). Pancakes became associated with Shrove Tuesday as they were a dish that could use up all the eggs, fats and milk in the house with just the addition of flour.
The origin of pancake racing
Pancake races are thought to have begun in 1445.
A woman had lost track of the time on Shrove Tuesday, and was busy cooking pancakes in her kitchen. Suddenly she heard the church bell ringing to call the faithful to church for confession. The woman raced out of her house and ran all the way to church, still holding her frying pan and wearing her apron.
Link to simple pancake recipe for Shrove Tuesday...or any other time you fancy making some great pancakes
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