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Origins and Traditions of Shrove Tuesday

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The day before the beginning of Lent is known as Shrove Tuesday. Lent is the 40-day period that builds up to Easter in which the death and resurrection of Jesus is remembered.

Origins of Shrove Tuesday

To shrive in old English is to acknowledge sins and receive God's forgiveness and spiritual advice. Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the ritual of shriving, when in the week immediately before Lent, people would go to their confessor and confess their sins.

On Shrove Tuesday many Christians would meditate and consider the sins or wrongs they needed to acknowledge and what changes they needed to make in their life to enhance their spiritual growth. When Ash Wednesday was established as the beginning of Lent it was considered appropriate to prepare for it first by being "shriven" or receiving the sacrament of Penance.

How Shrove Tuesday is Celebrated

Shrove Tuesday is also a day of celebration. It marks the last day before Lent and since Lent is a time of abstinence and giving things up, this Tuesday is the last chance to indulge.

There were many foods not eaten during Lent such as fish, fats, eggs and milky foods. Also called "Fat Tuesday" it was a day thrifty housewives would use up all the fat that was in the house for cooking as she would not be using it during the 40 days of Lent. This need to eat up the fats gave rise to the name Mardi Gras, taken from the French Mardi meaning Tuesday and gras meaning fat. Since pancakes are a standard way of using up fat, eggs, milk and flour, the day was also called Pancake Tuesday in England.

Pancake Day Around the World

What happens on Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day around the world?

  • In Sweden it is called Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday). Their pancake equivalent is called a Fettisday buller which is a round bun with the middle scooped out and replaced with marzipan and whipped cream. The top of the bun is replaced and sprinkled with icing sugar.
  • In Canada, objects such as coins, thimbles and rings are added to the pancake mix and the person to find the coins in their pancake will have a wealthier year ahead. In Canada pancakes are served with syrup, jam, sausages or bacon.
  • In France Shrove Tuesday is called Mardi Gras. During the Mardi Gras Carnival people dress in costume and masks. The French eat crepes on Candlemass Day which is the 2nd February when it was also custom for people to bring lighted candles back from the church to ensure good crops for the year to come.
  • In Poland, Shrove Tuesday is called "Sledziowka" and the most popular dish on that day is herring.
  • In Australia, like in Britain and Ireland, Shrove Tuesday is traditionally called "Pancake Tuesday".
Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday, Fat Tuesday or as they say in Iceland "Sprengidagur" or Bursting Day, is celebrated around the world in very similar ways.

Sources

Davidson M. Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and Mardi Gras. Religious and Moral Education Press 1984.

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