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Shrove Tuesday: a day of forgiveness and pancakes


Shrove Tuesday is a day that's celebrated by many Christians around the world before the start of Lent — a six-week period that leads up to Easter. Here's the story behind this day. (And yes, it involves pancakes!)

What is it?

a woman at a confessional

A woman confesses to a priest at her church. (Photo credit: hernanpba on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA)

The word shrove means to confess. And, in the Middle Ages, this day was a time for people to confess their sins and ask forgiveness for them. This allowed Christians to enter into the season of Lent and prepare for Easter with a clean spirit. Shrove Tuesday takes place on a different date each year, depending on when Easter falls. This year, the day lands on February 13, the day before Valentine's Day. 

How are pancakes involved?

crepes filled with sugar

Another way to enjoy Pancake Day — rolled up paper-thin crèpes with yummy fillings. (Photo credit: wiccked on / CC BY-NC-SA)

Long ago, after people went to church to confess their sins on Shrove Tuesday, they often returned home to have a feast. Since it was common for Christians to fast during the 40 days of Lent — that means they had just one meal and two small snacks each day — people used Shrove Tuesday to enjoy one last big meal before Lent began. Plus, this feast was a way to use up some of their fresh food — including eggs, butter and milk — so that it wouldn't spoil during the six weeks of Lent.

Want to know more about Lent? We've got a fun post you can read

stack of pancakes with syrup being poured on them

Yummy pancakes with syrup for Pancake Day. (Photo credit: emma-louise from Brisbane on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND)

One of the dishes that was often made with these ingredients was pancakes. And that tradition has continued today. In places around the world, including Canada, England, Ireland and Australia, people pig out on pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. That’s why it’s sometimes known as Pancake Tuesday or Pancake Day. 

Are there any other traditions?

kids racing with pancakes in pans

Kids take part in a pancake race in Olney, England. (Photo credit: robinmyerscough on Visual Hunt / CC BY)

Besides making and eating stacks of pancakes, some people in parts of England have pancake races. They race down streets carrying a frying pan with a cooked pancake in it and flip the pancake as they run. It’s said this tradition came about from an event dating back to Shrove Tuesday in 1445. A British woman was making pancakes and heard the church bells ring. Rather than be late, she brought her frying pan and pancake to church with her!

Mardi Gras parade with floats

The Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans on Shrove Tuesday. (Photo credit: The Library of Congress on Visual Hunt / No known copyright restrictions)

In some places, parades are a common sight on Shrove Tuesday. For instance, in New Orleans and a few cities in France, parades featuring elaborate costumes, masks and flower-covered floats are held on the streets. The day is called Mardi Gras — meaning Fat Tuesday — because people often eat rich, fatty foods before the Lenten season begins.

buns filled with cream

Delicious laskiaispullat buns are eaten in Finland on Shrove Tuesday. (Photo credit: hepp on / CC BY-NC)

In Finland, people spend Shrove Tuesday — or laskiainen — outside, taking part in activities like sledding. And the day is topped off with a meal of pea soup and buns called laskiaispullat.