Pancake Day is traditionally known as Shrove Tuesday and is historically a religious occasion relating to the Christian feast of Easter. In the UK and other countries across the world it has become commonly known as ‘Pancake Day’ as it is a day when families observe the tradition of cooking and eating pancakes, made from ingredients which were often given up during the fasting period of Lent in the run up to Easter.
Shrove Tuesday is also known by other names around the world, including ‘Fat Tuesday’ and ‘Mardi Gras’.
Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, is the last day before the start of Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday and is an important time in the Christian calendar as it prepares worshippers for Easter, when the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated. Lent lasts for around six weeks and is said to represent the 40 days and 40 nights that Jesus fasted in the desert. During Lent, it is traditional for Christians to fast or to give up certain items, often sweets or indulgent foodstuffs.
The preparation of pancakes represents ridding the house of some of these luxury foods such as sugar, eggs and fats which go into making the pancakes and is seen as the last chance to indulge before Lent.
While Pancake Day always falls on Tuesday, the date itself is not fixed as it is tied to the date of Easter, a moveable feast which is determined by a variety of factors including the cycles of the moon and the Spring Equinox.
Pancake Day is now celebrated by non-Christians and non-religious families throughout the UK, with many households enjoying making and eating pancakes. It is not a bank holiday in the country but is still widely observed with pancakes and various other local traditions.
Its history is strongly linked to the Christian calendar as it signals the last day before the period of Lent. The traditional name of Shrove Tuesday dates back to the Middle Ages when Christians used to confess their sins before the start of Lent, with ‘shrove’ having come from an old word for confession, ‘shrive’.
In more recent times it has become affectionately known as ‘Pancake Day’ because this became a common food to indulge in before fasting starting. Rich foods which were seen as forbidden during the Lenten period of abstinence such as butter, eggs and sugar go into a batter which is fried to make the thin pancakes.
Other traditions dating back as far as the 15th century have also emerged, including pancake races in which competitors race to the finish line while flipping their pancakes in a frying pan, a tradition believed to have come from the Buckinghamshire town of Olney where a woman back in 1445 is said to have run to church still carrying her frying pan when she heard the bells signalling the 11am service.