Shrove Tuesday/ Pancake Day/ Mardi Gras
Shrove Tuesday is not as popular as it used to be; the more showy Carnival, which derived from this old holiday, is nowadays more in demand. The old tradition of a feast before Ash Wednesday has more charming historical associations than most Carnival parades. The custom originated as the day of voracious eating before the start of Lent. Devout Christians, who would be soon expected to set aside eggs, sugar and meat would use up all of these products in a hurry. That is why Great Britain sometimes calls the day Pancake Day and Ireland – Pancake Tuesday: this type of dough would be prepared with eggs, sugar, flour and milk. The name “Shrove,” on the other hand, comes from the fact that people used to go to confession before Ash Wednesday; “shrive” has a meaning close to “atone”. The holiday is ingrained in Christian beliefs and traditions.
Some sources state that Shrove Tuesday has been known for more than a millennium. Prior to Protestant Reformation, there used to be celebrated a holiday week called Shrovetide; the pancake tradition began in the 16th century. There are a few specific customs that developed throughout the centuries, such as the shrive bell, the pancake race and Mob football games. The shrive bell was named thus, as it called all people from a village to come to a special “Shriven Tuesday” (the initial name of the holiday) church mass. The second tradition has allegedly started in 1445 due to a woman from Olney, Buckinghamshire, who, hearing the bell, ran to the cathedral with a frying pan, wearing her apron. The race has had different forms across the years; for example, the towns of Olney and Liberal, Kansas stage an annual race between themselves on the International Pancake Day. The last tradition called Mob football originated in the 12th century, but had been banned in 1835 due to the outlawing of playing on public highways. The tradition has been restored since in a few British towns.
The aforementioned customs have survived until this day. Every year, the shrive bell calls for all sinners to come and confess. Secondly, there are many traditions around the pancake. The rules of the pancake race include running almost four hundred meters with a frying pan in hand and flipping the pancake three times before the finish. There is the Westminster Abbey Pancake Grease, where boys participate in a contest of catching the most pancakes. In Wales, people eat light cakes, while in Gloucester pancakes are colored with various animal fat. Additionally, Mob football games are still prominent in Sedgefield in County Durham, Alnwick in Northumberland, Ashbourne in Derbyshire, St Columb Major in Cornwall, and Atherstone in Warwickshire. There is also the custom of great town skipping in Scarborough, Yorkshire. In Ireland, the tradition of Shrove Tuesday is less public and more family-oriented. Families gather and cook pancakes and meat together in order to create big supper.
Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday” in French) is another version of the holiday’s name. It originated in France, but was quickly adopted by the American culture, soon transforming into what we today know as the Carnival. It is less concerned with the Christian belief or with family and folklore; American Mardi Gras is more of a gigantic social event that features colorful parades, flashy costumes and loud parties.
Shrove Tuesday used to be a half-holiday in Great Britain, but it is no more. Both British and Irish institutions and businesses are open according to the regular schedule. There might be some traffic congestion, though, as street festivities occur. For Christians, the holiday is the final big feast before Lent (except for St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland), so the celebrations are full of energy and fattening food. It is a wonderful occasion for all sweet cake fans, and a charming example of British and Irish folklore.