Shrove Tuesday: penitence, absolution, and… pancakes!

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Pancake races are apparently a “thing” in the UK, for Shrove Tuesday  – the day before Ash Wednesday, and the start of Lent – and have been for centuries. Even clergy and choristers get into it, on occasion! Not to mention some really cute kids…

The town of Olney takes credit for their origin, as recorded on the town website:

“According to tradition it was in Olney, back in 1445, that pancake racing started. On Shrove Tuesday the church bell rang out to signal the start of the church service.

“A local housewife who was busy cooking pancakes before the start of Lent, ran to the church. She was still carrying her frying pan and wearing her apron and headscarf, and tossed the pancake to prevent it from burning.

“Local people who saw this were amused, and later started to organise pancake races. Pancake races still take place in Olney each Shrove Tuesday.”

Several of these pics are from Olney itself (a town which presumably gave its name to a town in Maryland, near where I grew up), both modern and historical; others are from elsewhere around the web… and the UK!

But of course, Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day, Doughnut Day, Fastnacht, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, etc.) is not just an excuse to eat yummy pancakes or doughnuts. It is about preparing for a holy Lent by being shriven (past participle of “shrove”) – forgiven, pardoned – for one’s duly repented sins, in preparation for the great season of self-examination, repentance, and preparation that is Lent.

 

More on Shrove Tuesday (“Pancake Day”) customs in the UK

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As commented earlier, today is Shrove Tuesday, also known as “Pancake Day.” Apparently pancake races, in which the contestants have to flip pancakes while running along, are traditional for this day in parts of the British Isles. These are young choristers from the choir school of one England’s great cathedrals – I forget, now, which one (I’ve had the picture for quite a while…). Here are more customs, along with some recipes:

All About Pancake Day in the UK

Shrove Tuesday pancake races alive and well across the Diocese of Leeds

https://www.leeds.anglican.org/sites/default/files/images/Pan3.jpg?fbclid=IwAR2eMXju9mZ7yk8WPTqyXZfji-6OJtvVpVweob6VgoP6QDL8rWRBT3IxqR8

Source: Shrove Tuesday pancake races alive and well across the Diocese of Leeds

Apparently there are some places in England that are keeping the tradition of Shrove Tuesday pancake races alive (although this is from 2015)!

“Pancake racing has been taking place this Shrove Tuesday… on streets across the diocese from village churches to Minsters and Cathedrals. It was the first experience of the traditional Ripon Shrove Tuesday Pancake races for the Dean, the Very Revd John Dobson, pictured below with a team of Cathedral staff racing along Kirkgate – including Canon Paul Greenwell, Verger Philip Bustard, Head verger Colin Belsey (right) and the Mayor of Ripon, Cllr Mick Stanley.”

https://www.leeds.anglican.org/sites/default/files/images/Pan2.jpg

Why pancakes, and why races? According to the Diocese of Leeds’ website,

“Shrove Tuesday is part of the Christian calendar marking the eve of Lent (40 days of fasting and prayers before Easter ). It was historically held so people could use up their supplies from the pantry before Lent began on Ash Wednesday. The word shrove comes from the Old English word shrive – to confess one’s sins. On Shrove Tuesday people confess their sins and it’s believed that pancake races came from women rushing to church before the noon cut-off time, clutching their half-finished pancakes.”

The “why pancakes” part I knew, of course; but the “why races” is interesting, even if perhaps apocryphal!