It is the day before Ash Wednesday, that marks the periof of fast and abstinence of Lent, also known as SHROVE TUESDAY. The term “shrove” comes from the verb “to shrive” originally meant “to write”: in fact, in Medieval England, the priest would hear someone’s confession and write an appropriate penance down, so that the person would have been shriven. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were dedicated to this period of penitence; Tuesday was the last opportunity for Christians to confess theirs sins before the start of Lent.
In the UK, Pancake Tuesday is celebrated by cooking and eating pancakes, a last feast before the fasting and self-denial of Lent. But, why pancake? Quite simple, because Lent is a period of giving up something we like. Moreover, eggs and butter were among the foods that used to be forbidden, as considered luxury items. In England and Wales, you can find dozens of different pancakes, from the glouchester ones (made with suet and golden syrup) and the Harvest (with ale, ginger and apples cooked in lard) to “rich” pancakes (with cream, dark sherry and butter) and the Welsh cakes (made with sour cream, buttermilk, or cheese, fish, sugar and jam on top). On the contrary, in many Scottish houses, pancakes are served during Easter Sunday to mark the end of Lent. Also known in other countries as MARDI GRAS (fat tuesday, in French), it refers to the habit of eating richer, fattier foods than usual before the ritual of Lent, but it was also a time for marrymaking. Back in the days when Lent required wearing dark clothing, eating meals without meat, and banning all forms of pleasure and entertainment for 40 days, it was customary for people to have a good time before these restrictions went into effect. In addition to eating more than usual, people would play games and hold costume parades, that still take place in many countries these days.
In Brazil, for example, as well as in Portuguese, Spanish and Italian speaking countries, people celebrate carnival (from the latin carne levare, take away meat) with colourful processions, music and fancy dress.
In Poland, Paczki Day (translated as Doughnut Day) is celebrated with Paczki-eating races, alongside music and the consumption of other Polish food.
In Eastern Czech Republic, a person in a mask or disguise calles the “Oats Goat” is led from house to house during Shrove Tuesday. He dances with the women and, in return, receives money, food and drink. Oats Goat is dressed in straw and wears horns on his head; he is normally associated with fertility, because at one time it was believed that dancing with him ensured the growth of crops. Women would pluck bits of straw from him and put them in their hens’ nests to guarantee a good supply of eggs.
Sweeden and Greece also have their Apocreas (Fat Tuesday in Greek), which is the last chance to eat meat before Lent started. Germany has Fasnacht Day and Iceland has Sprengidagur (Bursting Day).
So, Happy Pancake Tuesday everybody!