The long build up to Easter is called Lent. The day before Lent begins is called Shrove Tuesday. ‘Shrove’ means being forgiven for wrong-doings. It happens on a different date each year depending on when Easter is. This year Shrove Tuesday is on 12 February, 2013.
Another name for Shrove Tuesday is Pancake Day. Long ago this was a day for feasting and having a good time. People would go to church to confess the bad things they had done and would be ‘shriven’ or forgiven before the start of Lent. Since rich foods such as eggs were forbidden during Lent, one way of using them up would be to make pancakes.
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According to Christian tradition, Lent commemorates the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness so observant Christians marked this event by fasting. Many people used ingredients, such as eggs and milk, to prepare pancakes on Shrove Tuesday prior to the fasting period. Pancake races have been held in England for more than 500 years. Some sources suggest that they may have started in 1445.
One old English custom associated with Pancake Day was the annual pancake grease at London’s Westminster where schoolboys would fight for pancakes to gain monetary awards. Another tradition was Mischief Night, where some people would go into houses in disguise and ask for pancakes.
Many people still make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and in some parts of the UK people run in pancake races. This custom grew up because of the legend which dates from well over 500 years ago in 1445. On Shrove Tuesday one woman was still making her pancakes as the church bells rang out. Rather than be late she took her frying pan and pancake with her.
One of the most famous pancake races is held in Olney, Buckinghamshire. The race has been held for hundreds of years. Competitors need to be women over 18 years of age who must wear a skirt, an apron and head covering. They have to toss their pancake on the start line and again at the finish to prove they haven’t lost it.
In France and the United States Pancake day is called Mardi Gras which means ‘Fat’ or ‘Grease Tuesday’.