Shrove Tuesday: Why we all go flipping mad for it

Do you know the history behind your pancake?

Whether you know today's glorious pancake feast as Pancake Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday, people will be whisking up their batter and firing up their skillets all over Ireland (and the world) to celebrate.

Over 12 million pancakes will be devoured in Ireland today, according to a study commissioned by Siúcra, but do you know the reasons why we stuff our faces with the fried delights?

Shrove Tuesday is the traditional feast day before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, to prepare for the 40 days and nights of fasting that takes place in the lead up to Easter.

Anglo-Saxon Christians would attend confession to be 'shriven' from their sins, which is how the word shrove came from shrive, the English phrase meaning to present oneself to your priest for confession, penance and absolution.

The reason we indulge in pancakes on Shrove Tuesday is because they contain fat, butter and eggs, all of which used to be forbidden during Lent, so cooking pancakes was the perfect way of using up these rich ingredients.

The ingredients for pancakes can also be seen to symbolise four points of significance at this time of year:
Eggs - Creation
Flour - The staff of life
Salt - Wholesomeness
Milk - Purity

As with many Christian traditions, the occasion is also understood to have Pagan origins - they believed that the change of seasons was a struggle between Jarilo, the god of vegetation, fertility and springtime, and the evil spirits of cold and darkness.

In order to help Jarilo bring in the Spring, Pagans would celebrate Shrovetide week with hot, round pancakes that symbolised the sun. Any excuse to treat yourself eh?

Nowadays of course, rather than repenting for any of our wrongdoings by fasting for 40 days, people tend to give up a personal vice such as sweet foods or swearing for the duration of Lent.

Hence gorging on pancakes the night before those difficult days is thought to sweeten the blow.

Ireland: Lemon and sugar or ham 'n' cheese?

The study by Suicra revealed that Irish people will eat an average of 2.55 pancakes today, with an impressive 70% making their pancakes from scratch. 20% will rely on a ready mix, 6% will use ready-made pancakes, and just 4% will enjoy pancakes in a café or restaurant.

It seems today is not a day for risk taking, with less than half of those making pancakes aiming to chance their arm at flipping them in the pan. Of the brave that do, it appears that men (53%) are significantly more likely to do so than women (34%).

As for the great sweet or savoury divide that's been known to tear tables apart, the study found that Irish people have a preference for sweet toppings with only a small minority (12%) choosing savoury options such as cheese, ham, bacon and chorizo.

And the nation's favourite topping? The classic combination of lemon and sugar of course (38%) followed by maple syrup (20%) and chocolate spread (15%).


Lemon sugar crepes on my new glazed plates 🍋 🍽 #getwhippedtreats #getinmybelly #jaggededges #pancaketuesday #dessert #shrovetuesday #sweet #sugar #love #yum #crepes #pancakes #kmart @kmartaus

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Shrove Tuesday around the world 

The celebration of the day before Ash Wednesday differs across the world, and although names and traditions vary, they all have the same common theme; you celebrate with your loved ones and pig out on high calorie food to the point of bursting.

Here's how the rest of the globe is getting ready for the 40 days of religious fasting that starts tomorrow...

France - Candlemas

Although they eat crêpes all year around, on Candlemas Day (or February 2), the French remember the traditions of farm people who used to bring back candles from church to ward off evil spirits and ensure there was a good crop year.

French people also traditionally believe that if you can catch a crêpe with a frying pan after tossing it in the air with your right hand and holding a gold coin in your left hand, you’ll get rich within a year.


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Poland - Tłusty Czwartek

Poles gorge on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, and celebrate by chowing down on pączki, which are similar to jam doughnuts. On the Tuesday before Lent begins, the day is called Sledziowka, or ‘Herring Day’, and involves eating a lot of the fish.

New Orleans, USA - Mardi Gras

Shrove Tuesday is also known as Mardi Gras (it literally translates as Fat Tuesday!) and the colourful Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans involves plenty of fun and dancing before the long Lenten fast.

Mardi Gras is a surreal, flamboyant occasion, with a carnival procession and other wild events.  

Denmark - Fastelavn
Our Danish friends go all out in their celebrations of Fastelavn, on the last Sunday before Lent, where they gobble down Danish buns filled with cream or custard.
Children dress up in costumes and go from house to house collecting money (the Danes have expensive tastes), and kids play “hit the cat out of the barrel”, an old game which until the mid-19th century involved bashing a barrel with a live cat inside to banish bad spirits. Thankfully it's since been replaced with soft toys...

Italy - Martedí Grasso

We have another ‘Fat Tuesday’ in Italy, although this day is less about pancakes and more about hurling 400 tonnes of oranges at your family and friends.

In Ivrea, a small town in the Piemonte region, Italians prepare for Lent by having the country’s biggest food fight and thowing oranges at each other at the annual battaglia delle arance. The throwing of oranges is a reenactment of a medieval tradition in which an uprising was staged against those in power by launching large quantities of fruit - this is one celebration we'd bow out of.



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