The Christian period of Lent will soon be among us. And with Lent, comes Shrove Tuesday. But what is it? Where does it come from? And what happens?
What is it?
To put it simply, Shrove Tuesday is the last day before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent – an event, which takes place over a period of forty days, replicating the forty days of hardship when Jesus was stranded in the desert. The religious period is observed by many Christians, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Roman Catholics.
So, Shrove Tuesday is known as the last day to clean the soul before the self-restriction of Lent begins. Historically, people would go to church in order to be repented for their sins.
Where does it come from?
The meaning of the word ‘Shrove’, comes from the past tense of the verb ‘to shrive’, which means to give absolution after hearing confession. Therefore Shrove Tuesday is the last day to make confession before the period of Lent. The alternative name to Shrove Tuesday, and perhaps the more common title nowadays, is ‘Pancake Day’.
This name supposedly originated from a story from Olney in Buckinghamshire when, in 1445, a woman who was making pancakes heard the church bells and ran out of her house with a frying pan in hand. This started the tradition of a pancake race in the town, which has been an annual event ever since.
Traditionally, Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, which is associated with self-denial and abstinence. Therefore, Shrove Tuesday is treated as the last day to celebrate and indulge before this period. As produce such as eggs, fat, and milk were traditionally foods which could not be eaten during the period of Lent, pancakes became a suitable snack to make out of the leftover foodstuffs so that food did not go to waste.
The earliest pancake recipe in England dates back to the 15th century, so it could be possible that Christians have been successfully (or unsuccessfully) flipping their pancakes, and competing in pancake races for over six hundred years.