What is it?
Shrove Tuesday (also known as Pancake Tuesday or Pancake day) is the last day before the fasting period of Lent and is celebrated by Christians and others alike by consuming lots of pancakes. Shrove Tuesday comes from the word shrive, meaning absolve and is observed by many Christians who traditionally give something up for Lent and think about their walk with God and what amends need to be made. Chocolate is a usual favourite to give up during Lent, which then leads to a huge chocolate fest at Easter!
When is it?
This moveable event is determined by Easter. It is the seventh week before Easter each year and is the day in February or March immediately preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent). In 2019 this falls on Tuesday 5th March.
It’s centuries old and used to last a week before Lent but the custom of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday dates back to the 16th century. Christians repent of their sins in preparation for Lent. Some parish church ring their bells, known as the shriving bell, to call people to confess their sins.
Pancakes are a way to use up rich foods such as eggs (symbolising creation), milk (symbolising purity), and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. Fasting emphasises eating plainer food and refraining from food that would give pleasure (such as chocolate and meat).
Pancake races are common and usually organised by community groups or pubs. People race through the streets tossing pancakes into the air and catching them in the frying pan while running. There are usually rules about how many times the pancake has to be flipped or having to stop and pick up a dropped pancake. Fancy dress is also a common feature of these races, particularly men dressing up as women (but maybe that’s just the ones I’ve attended!).
Every year in London the Rehab Parliamentary Pancake Race takes place on Shrove Tuesday. Teams from the House of Commons race against the House of Lords and the Press. They compete for the title of Parliamentary Pancake Race Champions in a fun relay race.
Also known as mob football. It’s crazy and it’s pretty difficult to keep up with which team is winning. It’s a community event dating back to the 17th century. The practice mostly died out in the 19th century after the passing of the Highway Act 1835 which banned playing football on public highways. A number of towns have maintained the tradition including Ashbourne in Derbyshire (called the Royal Shrovetide Football), near to where we live in the U.K. Pretty much everyone steers clear of the town unless you are taking part. Traffic is stopped and pubs are full from early morning as participants ready themselves for the brutal battle ahead. Shops board up for the two days to avoid damage.
The game is played over two days on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday from 2pm to 10pm. The game is started by the ball being thrown in by a local celebrity or visiting dignitary. In 2003, HRH The Prince of Wales started the game. If the ball is gaoled before 5:30pm the game is restarted from the town centre. The ball is usually carried, like in rugby, although kicking and throwing are also permitted. The ball carrier is usually in the centre of a huge scrum of people and manoeuvred to their own goal. The goals are 3 miles apart. The goal scorer has to tapped three times on the goal area and then is is carried on the shoulders of their team to the courtyard of The Green Man Royal Hotel. The two teams are called the Up’Ards and Down’Ards depending on which side of the river you live. The rules are pretty thin on the ground so practically anything goes. You can’t kill someone (that’s an actual rule!), you can’t carry it in a car or similar and sacred grounds (churches, graveyards etc) are strictly out of bounds. Play after 10pm is also forbidden.
It’s a huge local event which is covered in the local TV news and papers. Participants are usually easy to recognise after the event as they are battered, bruised, crushed and generally hungover!
We will have fun frying pancakes, tossing them and eating them. I enjoy mine with the traditional lemon and sugar. Zahra likes Nutella on hers. Rez likes ice cream and jam with his.
Whatever you do, wherever you are, enjoy your pancakes.