Whilst many of us like to enjoy Pancake Day feasting on our favourite sweet or savoury concoctions, the event remains an important date in the calendar for Christians over the world.
The origins of Shrove Tuesday
Shrove Tuesday, as with many European Christian traditions can be traced back to the Pagan times. Before the Christian era, the Slavic people that inhabited Central and Northern Europe believed that the gradual end of winter and the beginning of spring was a struggle between Jarilo, the god of vegetation, fertility and springtime and the evil spirits of cold and darkness. To celebrate the arrival of spring they feasted on pancakes, which symbolised the sun. They believed that by eating the pancakes, they got the power and warmth from the sun.
The meaning behind ‘shriving’
From there, the Christian ritual of ‘shriving’ was born, where members of the church congregation would go through their past with their priest and confess their sins to receive absolution for them. Absolution is meant to free the person from the guilt that their sins have been causing them.
It is thought that this tradition is over 1,000 years old as there is a recording in the Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical Institute which states: “in the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him”.
Once the ‘shriving’ had taken place, in preparation for Ash Wednesday and the start of lent, it was tradition to then use up all the rich foods people had in their cupboards such as eggs, milk and sugar before the 40 days of fasting would begin. The tradition of Lent encouraged people to eat plainer food and avoid those that would give pleasure, such as meat, dairy and eggs.
The pancake ingredients themselves also have religious connotations and are said to symbolise four points of significance at Easter and springtime – eggs signify creation, flour is the staff of life, salt is for wholesomeness and milk symbolises purity.
When is Shrove Tuesday?
Shrove Tuesday always falls 47 days before Easter Sunday and so the actual date varies from year to year, but always falls somewhere between February 3rd and March 9th.
The event to this day is a great opportunity to get rid of any indulgences before a period of abstinence during lent. In America, they follow a similar tradition, but Pancakes Day is called ‘Mardi Gras’, which is French for ‘Fat Tuesday’.