Shrove Tuesday falls on a different date each year, depending on when Easter falls. This year Shrove Tuesday is on the 4th of March.
The word ‘shrove’ means to be forgiven for wrong-doings. This ritual of shriving goes back to at least the Anglo Saxon period, when Christians would confess their sins and receive absolution for them.
As Lent is a time of giving things up, Shrove Tuesday is the last chance to use up the foods that aren’t allowed in Lent. Traditionally the foods forbidden for 40 days included meat and fish, fats, eggs, and milky foods.
On Shrove Tuesday there would be feasting to use up these foods, and so this gave the rise to the tradition of making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, to use up all the fats and milk.
Often referred to as Pancake Day in the UK, Shrove Tuesday is called Mardi Gras, which means ‘Fat’ or ‘Grease Tuesday’ in both France and the United States.
The custom of making pancakes with leftovers on Shrove Tuesday was well established by 1445, when the first recorded pancake race is recorded in the English historical record. One of the most famous pancake races is still held in Olney, Buckinghamshire where women over 18 years of age have been competing for hundreds of years.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.