Hi there! My name is Alex and I'm currently undertaking my Creative Writing PhD at the University of Lincoln. I'm a big fan of lots of streaming services, books, and am a published poet! I aspire to be a multi-genre,…
Pancake Day, also known as Shrove Tuesday, is a day many of us know and love. It always falls on the seventh week before Easter, directly preceding Ash Wednesday, and begins the period of Lent – this year, Pancake Day falls on the 21st of February. On this day across the world, many Christians participate in activities of confession, choosing their Lenten sacrifice, burning the holy palms from the previous year’s Holy Week, and absolution. In terms of religious practice, this is a time meant for considering how one can grow spiritually, and looking inside yourself for what you may need to repent.
Broadly, however, most of us associate this day with the greatest popular consumption of pancakes and other sweet foods. This is because foods like these are commonly given up for the 40 days of Lent, so this day marks the final day of being able to indulge in them – hence also why many people refer to this day as “Fat Tuesday”, taken from the French term “Mardi Gras”. A tradition of holding a pancake breakfast with family and friends is observed by many, and some even go as far as to make the day a carnival day, making the occasion of eating a huge celebration before Ash Wednesday.
You may be wondering, why have pancakes specifically become part of these traditions? Well, this is because they have long been an incredibly easy way to use up rich ingredient foods such as eggs, milk and sugar, which would often have been given up for Lent – pancakes were the best way to make sure none of those spoilable ingredients would go to waste before the start of the fasting, and also so that people wouldn’t be tempted by them in the household.
When it comes to the United Kingdom specifically, there have been and still are lots of communities that have their special town celebrations on this day. One notable tradition is that of a mob football game, some of which have their origins back in the 17th century. Although this community practice mostly died out with the passing of the 1835 Highway Act (which banned the playing of football on public highways), there are some places where the tradition still goes strong! These include Alnwick in Northumberland, Ashbourne in Derbyshire, Atherstone in Warwickshire, St Columb Major in Cornwall, and Sedgefield in County Durham.
Furthermore in Britain’s, past Shrove, Tuesday used to be a sort of half-holiday with a very unique tradition of having “pancake races”. This hilariously is said to originate in 1445 when a housewife from Olney in Buckinghamshire was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells signalling the 11:00 am service (marking the start of the half-holiday). Apparently, she bolted from her home with her frying pan still in hand and kept tossing the pancake within to stop it from burning. This has evolved into a tradition wherein on Pancake Day, participants must race through the streets tossing pancakes into the air and catching them in their pans whilst running. The race at Olney specifically has a 415-yard course, you must toss the pancake at the start and the finish, and be wearing a scarf and apron.
As odd as some of these traditions may sound, I think their heart-warming, warm-spirited nature shouldn’t be overlooked. However you celebrate, Pancake Day is a day for enjoying the pleasures and joys we have around us alongside the people we love and care about. So from me, I wish you all the best Pancake Day!