Shrove Tuesday Traditions in the UK

Pancake Tuesday is also known as Shrove Tuesday in the UK. Pancake (Shrove) Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent (40 days leading up to Easter). The name ‘Shrove’ derives from old English word ‘shrive’ which means ‘confess all sins’. Lent always begins on Ash Wednesday, for this reason people went to confessions on the day before. This day eventually became referred to as ‘Shriven Tuesday’ and later on ‘Shrove Tuesday’.

Here are some common English expressions and words connected with that period.

Pancake Tuesday is the more modern term for the day that the Christians commonly refer to as Shrove Tuesday. It is the day when Christians start their preparation for the period of Lent (usually give up or stop doing something they like as a form of penance). Pancake Tuesday originates from an ancient English tradition of using up most of the fattening ingredients at home before Lent. Pancakes are made from simple products, flour water and eggs. An easy recipe to get rid of all these stocks was to mix all of them with a bit of flour to make pancakes. They are flat and made on a pan. It was to signify the last of the dairy products that would be eaten before Easter. The tradition has been handed down from generation to generation. The making of pancakes is simple and those with enough skill will flip the pancake from the pan and catch it before it falls. This flipping or tossing the pancakes is not only fun but also ensures the pancakes are cooked evenly on both sides.

The pancakes are eaten plain often (in my home) with a sprinkling of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice.

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In many towns the old tradition was to hold pancake races. The chef (cook) would gather in the town square and race along the street constantly tossing and flipping their pancakes.

Overseas Shrove Tuesday is known as ‘Mardi Gras’, which means ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French and it also originates from the idea of using up all the stocks before Lent.

A lot of countries around the world have Mardi Gras festivities and also carnivals. Some of the most well-known are in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Venice in Italy.

The day after Pancake Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday) is referred to as Ash Wednesday the beginning of lent. Incidentally the Americans refer to Shrove Tuesday as Mardi Gras. When I was a young boy we were encouraged to give up for the 40 days of lent. This was often sweet things like cakes biscuits and sweets. A real tragedy (problem) for a young kid. Some people still stick to this ritual. The exact date of Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday varies from year to year as it is always 47 days before Easter Sunday and as that feast varies then so do the dates of these 2 days. So it’s a moveable feast in every way.

We have an expression in English “a moveable feast”. This refers to something that is not certain or the date is not fixed.

For example: Is your friend getting married soon? I am not sure it’s a bit of a moveable feast.They do not seem to be able to make their minds up on the right day.

The beginning of lent also signifies to me that winter is coming to an end and spring is not so far away. Here’s hoping!

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to derive from – to come from, to originate from
to fast – to stop taking certain food or drink for a period of time
to get rid of – to dispose of
to toss – to tumble, to move back and forth
overseas – abroad
to use up – to empty, to reduce
festivities – celebration
to start preparation – to get ready
to signify – to acknowledge
to hand down – to pass on
to flip – to turn over by throwing it up in the air
sprinkling – light dusting
squeeze (noun) – small drop
incidentally – as it happens
to give up – to sacrifice something
to stick to something – to follow something
to vary – to change

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