Its one of our favourite food-related days of the year… PANCAKE TUESDAY! But where did this world-wide phenomena originate from and why do we decide to eat pancakes on this one specific day of the year? We looked at the meaning behind Pancake Tuesday and discovered some interesting facts from around the world.
Pancake Tuesday is actually known as “Shrove Tuesday”, the day before “Ash Wednesday” when traditionally Lent begins. Being before the last day before the penitential season of Lent, related popular practices, such as indulging in food that one sacrifices for the upcoming forty days, are associated with Shrove Tuesday celebrations, before commencing the fasting and religious obligations associated with Lent. The term Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”, referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday.
Like many other European holidays, the pancake day was originally a pagan holiday. Before the Christian era, the Slavs 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. People believed they had to help Jarilo fight against winter and bring in the spring. The most important part of Shrovetide week (the whole celebration of the arrival of spring lasted one week) was making and eating pancakes. The, round pancakes symbolised the sun. The Slavs believed that by eating pancakes, they got the power, light and warmth of the sun. The first pancake was usually put on a window for the spirits of the ancestors. On the last day of Shrovetide week, some pancakes and other food were burnt in a bonfire to the pagan gods.
In Ireland, the UK, Australia & Canada, Shrove Tuesday is known as “Pancake Day” or “Pancake Tuesday” due to the tradition of eating pancakes on the day.
Catholic and Protestant countries (outside those mentioned above) traditionally call the day before Ash Wednesday “Fat Tuesday” or “Mardi Gras”. The name predated the Reformation and referred to the common Christian tradition of eating special rich foods before the fasting season of Lent.
For German American populations, such as, Pennsylvania Dutch Country, it is known as Fastnacht Day (also spelled Fasnacht, Fausnacht, or Fosnacht).
In some parts of the United States with large Polish communities, such as, Gudisdienstag, preceded by Gudismontag. According to the Duden (semi-official dictionary of the German language), the term derives from “Gudel”, which means a fat stomach full of food.
In Iceland the day is known as Sprengidagur (Bursting Day) and is marked by eating salted meat and peas.