Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, is a day celebrated in many countries around the world. It is celebrated in countries like the UK, Ireland, Australia and Canada. In France, the USA and other countries, it is called 'Mardi Gras' or 'Fat Tuesday'. In others like Spain, Italy or Brazil, Shrove Tuesday is at the end of Carnival. On this day many people eat pancakes to celebrate the start of lent. Lent is a period of 40 days before Easter when people often give up luxuries. Traditionally, during Lent, people don't eat rich foods like butter and eggs, so to use them up they made pancakes from these ingredients on Shrove Tuesday. Being such a widespread tradition, it’s only natural that many different variations of Shrove Tuesday exist across the world. This year, we thought we’d explore these Pancake Day traditions and see how they contrast with our own English traditions.
Fastelavnsboller and the crown that is given to the King (Image via City of Sound)
Seven weeks before Easter Sunday, during the three days preceding Lent, Danes celebrate Fastelavn. It consists of what they call Fastelavn Sunday, Fastelavn Monday, Shrove Tuesday and it ends on Ash Wednesday. The season of Shrovetide traditionally is a time for spirituality and self-reflection. Traditionally, Danish toy stores and bakery windows will be filled with toy cats, wooden barrels and lots of tempting freshly baked buns with an assortment of sweet fillings including whipped cream, strawberry jam and melted milk chocolate. Fastenlavn was originally the last day to feast on dairy foods, sweet flavours and special Danish buns before fasting for Lent. Nowadays it’s a chance for children to dress up as their favourite characters and hit the cat out of the barrel. Hitting the cat out of a barrel is an old Danish tradition carried out on Fastenlavn. Danish people would often gather to take it in turns to beat a wooden barrel with a stick. It is believed this was to scare the ‘evil’ cats, which often slept inside the barrels, away from their town. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen anymore. Now in Denmark it is more common to have a cardboard box that symbolises the wooden barrel and sweets inside representing the sleeping cat. The child that breaks the barrel and releases the sweets in crowned Cat King or Kattekongen.
Two people celebrating Uzgavenes wearing traditional masks (Image via Walkable Vilnius)
Uzgavenes is a popular Lithuanian festival which literally translates to ‘the time before Lent’. The festival takes place on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the fast begins on Ash Wednesday. The festival is a time of celebration full of humour, pranks, superstitions and plenty of food, and is often celebrated in public squares, large parks and family homes so that everyone can get involved together. During Uzgavenes, Lithuanian’s are encouraged to dress up as devils, witches, goats and beggars and wear fearsome wooden masks to scare off the upcoming winter. They sing, dance, throw water at each other and pull pranks throughout the day. Those participating are also urged to walk around and ask for pancakes and money - similar to trick or treating at Halloween. During the festivities, a large effigy, often called Morė representing winter is set alight. Indulging in potato pancakes, doughnuts and boiled pork is also part of the Shrove Tuesday fun. In fact, Lithuanian’s are encouraged to eat at least 12 meals during Shrove Tuesday, in preparation for the fast!
Traditional Spanish chorizo omelette that is often enjoyed on Jueves Lardero (Image via Getty Images)
Spanish celebrations are very different to many others around the world. They start Carnaval on Thursday, the week before Ash Wednesday, known as Jueves Lardero, which translates to 'Fat Thursday' or Jovelardero and it is known as the ‘Day of the Omlette’ or Dia de la tortilla. The celebrations vary from town to town, but generally it is a day to clean the pantry of meat and bread and to eat a meal as a community, to celebrate before lent. In both the Castilla-Leon and La Rioja regions young people are excused from school early, then traditionally carry a straw figure representing Judas, and go from house to house, asking for eggs, chorizo or money in order to make a meal. Neighbours sometimes ask the children to sing a short song before giving them the food. Then, the children gather all the ingredients together and prepare a merienda or snack to share.
A pancake race in Olney (Image by Robin Myerscough via Historic UK)
The word Shrove means to confess and this is exactly what Christians used to do before they indulged in pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Christians would confess their sins at church and then go home to empty their cupboards before fasting for the next 40 days of Lent. This allowed Christians to enter the season of Lent and prepare for Easter with a clean spirit and home. Instead of throwing food away, Christians would use their remaining eggs, milk and fatty foods to create a pancake mix. Many Christians still do this to this day, but the custom of eating pancakes has been adopted in the UK even by those who are not religious too. On Pancake Day, 'pancake races' are held in villages and towns across the United Kingdom. The tradition is said to have originated in 1445 when a housewife from Olney was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells ringing for the service. She raced out of the house to church while still carrying her frying pan and pancake, flipping it to prevent it from burning! The pancake race remains a relatively common festive tradition in the UK, especially England. Participants with frying pans race through the streets tossing pancakes into the air and catching them in the pan while running.
How do you celebrate Pancake Day? If you are looking for a new, delicious pancake recipe to try, why not have a look at our previous journal post full of delicious recipes from all around the world here?