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The History Man

This blog contains interesting facts about the history of Spain and things Spanish.

Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday
Tuesday, February 21, 2023 @ 7:54 AM

Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day is the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the 40 days running up to Easter. Shrove Tuesday is observed in many Christian countries through participation in confession and absolution.

For most of us, however, it is simply Pancake Day.

The History Man delves deeper into this tradition.


Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday is a moveable feast determined by Easter, which in turn is determined by the Moon. The expression "Shrove Tuesday" comes from the word shrive, meaning " absolve".

In France, Shrove Tuesday is known as Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday"), referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday.

Many Christian congregations plus non-practising folk observe the day through eating pancakes.

In some Christian countries, it is also a carnival day, the last day of "fat eating" or "gorging" before the fasting period of Lent.


Why pancakes?

It was traditional in many societies to eat pancakes or other foods made with the butter, eggs and fat or lard that would need to be used up before the beginning of Lent.  

The specific custom of British Christians eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday dates to the 16th century.

The word shrove is a form of the English word shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one's sins. Thus, Shrove Tuesday was named after the custom of Christians to be "shriven" before the start of Lent.

In the UK, Ireland and parts of the Commonwealth, Shrove Tuesday is also known as Pancake Day, as it became a traditional custom to eat pancakes. 

In Spanish-, Portuguese- and Italian-speaking countries, among others, it is known as carneval. This derives from Medieval Latin carnelevamen ("the putting away of flesh") and thus to another aspect of the Lenten fast, to abstain from eating meat.

The day, or week, is often celebrated with street processions or fancy dress. The most famous of these events are the Brazilian Carnival in Río de Janeiro and the Santa Cruz Carnival in Tenerife (Canary Islands).

In Spain, the Carnival Tuesday is named día de la tortilla, "omelette day", since, rather than pancakes, an omelette made with some sausage or pork fat is eaten.

Shrove Tuesday serves a dual purpose of allowing Christians to repent of any sins they might have made before the start of Lent on the next day, Ash Wednesday, and giving them the opportunity to engage in a last round of merriment before the start of the sombre Lenten season.

Pancakes are associated with Shrove Tuesday, the day preceding Lent, because they are a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. The liturgical fasting emphasises eating simpler food, and refraining from food that would give undue pleasure: in many cultures, this means no meat, dairy products or eggs.

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, Buckinghamshire, 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, tossing it to prevent it from burning. 

The pancake race remains a relatively common festive tradition in the UK, especially in England. Participants with frying pans race through the streets tossing pancakes into the air and catching them in the pan while running. 


Shrove Tuesday in Spain

As indicated previously, omelette is eaten instead of pancakes, according to tradition thus using up the surplus butter and eggs, which couldn’t be eaten during Lent.

There are processions in most towns and cities, plus other events and activities. Since this week coincides with schools’ half-term holiday, known here as Semana Blanca, there is plenty for the kids.

I haven’t been to Río, but I have been to the carnival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife a number of times. Spectacular!


Enjoy your pancakes or your tortillas!


© The History Man


With acknowledgements to Wikipedia


Tags: Ash Wednesday, butter, Canary Islands, día de la tortilla, eggs, frying pan, History Man, Lent, pancake, Pancake Day, pancake race, Puerto de la Cruz, Rio de Janeiro, shrive, shrove, Shrove Tuesday, Tenerife, tortilla

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