Skip to comments.Shrove Tuesday: 'Pancake Day' Explained
Posted on 02/15/2010 2:19:07 PM PST by Salvation
I remember Pancake Day from my childhood. A bizarre tradition, one that turned my mother's nutritional schedule upside down, one that transformed math class into a picnic in our school rooms. Though I asked, there was little or no explanation for the inexplicable adult actions, and offered plates of pancakes brimming with butter and dripping with syrup, I didn't question the matter too closely.
During my first Lenten season as a Catholic, I finally began to gain some understanding and explanation for this strange habit. Actually not so strange at all, it makes perfect sense when viewed in a liturgical light, as does all of Catholic tradition.
Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras or fetter Dienstag) is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Since Lent is a time of abstinence, traditionally of meat, fat, eggs and dairy products (one wonders what was left) Shrove Tuesday's menu was designed to use up all the fat, eggs and dairy products left in the kitchen and storeroom. It is also a 'feast' to prepare for the time of 'famine' in the desert. In some cultures, it is traditional to eat as much as possible on Shrove Tuesday, sometimes up to 12 times a day.
The English term "shrovetide" (from "to shrive", or hear confessions) is explained by a sentence in the Anglo-Saxon "Ecclesiastical Institutes" translated from Theodulphus by Abbot Aelfric (q.v.) about A.D. 1000: "In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then my hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance]".
In many traditions, Lent is a time for cleaning, in preparation for Easter and spring. First your soul, then your kitchen, then the rest of the house was cleansed and purified of the past year's accumulations. Old clothes are mended, and new clothes purchased at this time of year. In the Ukraine, houses were whitewashed inside and out during Lent. In this way, everything was made ready to face the season of Salvation and Rebirth. Traditions of 'spring cleaning' stem from this religious observance.
Ingredients: (for 1 2/3 inch pancakes)
Crisp and brown, these are great with sour cream or yogurt, bacon and applesauce. This year, I'm going to try cooking them in the waffle iron.
Ingredients: (for nine 3 1/2 inch pancakes)
Did you get a Paczki this morning? LOL!
The Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper is an English tradition - which is why you will find it in most Episcopal parishes. Since the Gulf Coast was settled by the French and Spanish Catholics, the traditions follow those in France and Spain, which would be Mardi Gras and Carnivale. It’s interesting, too, that when I was Episcopalian, we would celebrate Epiphany with the purple, green, and gold King Cake (the beginning of Epiphanytide), but would not see the green, gold, and purple again (it was just pancakes and bacon in the Parish Hall with no decorations of any kind) - whereas those who celebrate Mardi Gras (the end of Epiphanytide) celebrate with green, gold, and purple and King Cake festivities. I used to work with a lady from Louisiana who would bring a King Cake to work to share with us on Shrove Tuesday.
The Observance of Lent - Part I
[Illustration, Book of Gospels - Midwest Theological Forum]
Part I - Pre-Lenten Days
Suggestions for family activities on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras)
The penitential season of Lent is the period of forty week-days beginning on Ash Wednesday. It is a season of the Church year that commemorates the forty days Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness before He began His public ministry of preaching for repentance. Six Sundays are within the season; the last, Passion Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week. Holy Thursday begins the Triduum (three days) before Easter day, which includes Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
The Church has devoted a period of time to prayer and fasting as a preparation for the liturgical comemmoration of the Passion of Christ and the celebrations of the feast of the Resurrection, Easter Day, since very early times. In 604 Pope Gregory I defined Lent as "The spiritual tithing of the year", a time of solemn spiritual and physical preparation for our own acceptance of salvation through Christ's sacrifice. (Ordinary tithing meant to give a tenth part a tithe of one's goods to God. Lent's forty days represents about a tenth of the year.)
The word "Lent" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "lencten", referring to the lengthening of days in the Spring. Lent, of course, is an English word. In Latin, still the official language of the the Catholic Church, the entire season is known as Quadrigesima, or "forty".
The season of Lent calls Christians to imitate the forty days of prayer and fasting of Jesus. The period of forty days is significant. When God punished the sinfulness of mankind by the Flood, the rain lasted forty days and forty nights. Moses led the Hebrew people out of bondage in Egypt, but they wandered forty years in the desert before reaching the promised land. Elijah fasted and sought God's will on Mount Horeb for forty days. Jonah prophesied the destruction of Nineveh in forty days.
In the Eastern Churches the penitential season before Easter begins before the forty days, and eventually the Roman Church also anticipated the season for several weeks before the actual beginning of Lent.
Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the pre-Lenten penitential season began on the Sunday three weeks before the beginning of Lent, called Septuagesima. The word Septuagesima (seventieth) was supposed to be a reminder of the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people, and thus of our captivity in sin, although this Sunday was actually only sixty-three days before Easter. The succeeding pre-Lenten Sundays were called Sexagesima and Quinquagesima. Just as in Lent, violet vestments were worn and the Alleluia was omitted from Mass.
The liturgical changes initiated by the Council removed this anticipated pre-Lenten penitential season, however, and the Church returned to the earlier practice of beginning Lent on Ash Wednesday. The Sundays between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent are now in the liturgical season called Ordinary Time.
The date of Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal (spring) equinox. So, unlike Christmas, which is celebrated on the same day each year, Easter and feasts and celebrations of the Church year related to Easter are called "movable feasts". The movable feasts include the Ascension (forty days after Easter), Pentecost (fifty days after Easter), and Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. (Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, or the Sunday before Advent, is also a movable feast, although its date is not determined by the date of Easter, but by the first Sunday of Advent, which is the Sunday nearest the Feast of St. Andrew, November 30.)
Carnival Shrove Tuesday - Mardi Gras
Carnival is from the Latin Carnevale or "farewell to meat", and it is a time of joyful feasting and fun. The practice of celebrating carnival probably began in ancient times when the Sunday a week before the beginning of Lent was called Dominica Carnevala, or "farewell to meat Sunday" -- referring to the Lenten fast from meat and animal products. (For more information on the Catholic practice of fasting see Ash Wednesday page, and Fast and Abstinence page.)
The official day of "farewell" is Mardi Gras, French for "Fat Tuesday". The day was also called "Butter Tuesday", because the last of the animal products had to be used up sometimes in fried pancakes. It is also known as Shrove Tuesday, which may refer to the diet being deprived or "shriven" of meat; or possibly that after the customary confession in preparation for Lent, one is "shriven" of sin. The famous celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans has become largely a secular festival, its religious meaning having been virtually obliterated in the revelries. And the word "carnival" has long since lost its religious significance.
Carnival celebrations are not confined only to Mardi Gras, however. In some parts of the world, the carnival season extends several weeks prior to Ash Wednesday. Even today, the carnival celebrations, especially in the Caribbean, South American and some European countries, begin on January 6 (Epiphany) and end on midnight before Ash Wednesday.
Celebrating Carnival with family, friends and parish community helps children and adults to understand and appreciate "that wonderful, eternal rhythm of high and low tide that makes up the year of the Church: times of waiting alternate with times of fulfillment, the lean weeks of Lent with the feasts of Easter and Pentecost, times of mourning with seasons of rejoicing", as Maria von Trapp said, in Around the Year with the Trapp Family (p. 85). The Carnival season has been a time of "blowing off steam", of entertaining guests in the spirit of Christian hospitality and generosity, and of partaking of rich food and drinks and sometimes of excess, as the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans vividly displays.
One of the reasons for the development of the Carnival season and the emphasis on revelry and merry-making was the very rigorous practice of Lenten fasting during the Middle Ages and beyond. During Carnival, housewives of the past rid their pantries of all butter, lard, eggs, bacon, cream and cheese in preparation for the Lenten fast. From the Middle Ages until the late Renaissance, eating all animal products except fish (which were considered bloodless) was forbidden.
Now, however, the Lenten fast and abstinence from meat in most parts of the world is confined to Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent, and in modern times abstinence from meat does not include other animal products (eggs, milk and cheese, for example).
The custom of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday is still maintained in many places. (Pancakes require many eggs and much milk and butter in their preparation.) To this day there is an annual pancake race on Shrove Tuesday between the village of Olney, England and the small town of Liberal, Kansas. The outcome of this international contest, which originated in the story of a "war-bride" who was a native of Olney where the traditional pancake race originated several hundred years ago, usually appears in the national news on Tuesday before the beginning of Lent.
Mardi Gras Menu Suggestions
New Orleans French: Crepes or beignets, with quiche or egg/cheese main-dish casserole
Cafe au lait or hot chocolate, fruit juices or wine punch
Anglo-American: Pancakes or doughnuts with sausages, bacon or ham slices, scrambled eggs; fruit sauces, other fillings, syrups, etc.; honey-butter, whipped cream, cream cheese.
The few days before Ash Wednesday, particularly the day before Shrove Tuesday. It is associated with confessing one's sins and has in many places become a time for holding carnivals, as the last time for festivity before the Lenten season of penance.
Yes, we always had pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. I loved it. Lent was a big deal in our house, and Mother never missed Stations on Fridays, even though getting there could be a hassle for her with 9 kids.
Tonight the husband and I will be attending a Pancake Supper at our church hall presented by the KOC.
I was just thinking this morning, though, what a shame it is that Mardi Gras and Carnival are just big parties now for so many people and totally lacking in any connection to preparing one for the spiritual experience of Lent.
...a fish fry on a day of fast & abstinence?
I hear you. I used to work in a Catholic school, and every Lent a bunch of teachers would oder pizza since we were not supposed to eat meat. Duh!
I made it part of my Lenten sacrifice to smell and see my favorite food in the faculty lounge. :-)
My Irish Catholic mother kept a spotless house, and during Holy Week, our house got a thorough cleaning from attic to cellar. (Same thing the week before Christmas.)
Coffee and alcohol for me. And I plan to incorporate more praying into my daily routine.
When we did the Pancake Dinner at our Parish, we included Jambalaya and lots of Mardi Gras decorations!
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