There are headlines about Shrove Tuesday in almost all the foodie publications right now – except no one is calling it Shrove Tuesday. “It’s Pancake Day” proclaims the February issue of BBC Good Food Magazine, “sweet or savoury; take your pick”. There’s no mention of Shrove Tuesday in the article inside the magazine. Now, I’m a huge fan of BBC Good Food, and have been ever since the very first issue nearly 25 years ago. My beef isn’t with them at all, they are just part of an issue that, as a Christian, really bothers me.
On one hand, I’m thrilled that a major event in the Christian calendar aside from Christmas and Easter is actually getting some press, but on the other, it really isn’t. Fewer and fewer people understand the whole story behind Pancake Day and how it is an important date in the Christian calendar. In fact, Pancake Day is more and more an entirely secular event.
Whatever your faith, you may already know that Shrove Tuesday is the last day before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Or you may only think of Pancake Day simply as a celebration of all things pancake – and to be fair pancakes do deserve to be celebrated! It’s just that isn’t the whole point of Pancake Day. It’s only part of the story.
Shrove Tuesday is the last day before Lent and to practicing Christians, Lent is a pretty big deal. Lent is a commemoration of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness before he began His ministry. And when I say wilderness I mean freezing cold at night, blistering hot in the daytime Middle Eastern desert, with no food and barely enough water to survive. During this very testing time, Jesus was joined by Satan, whose plan was to tempt Him out of following God’s plan for our salvation. This plan involved Jesus’ death on the cross – the redemption for all our sins. This, and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead three days later on Easter Sunday, are at the very core of the Christian faith.
Most Christians give up something during Lent or follow a special Bible study or devotions. Some still fast certain days during this time. There aren’t any strict rules we have to follow, every Christian marks Lent in their own way. Regardless, Lent is a very important time for us.
Years ago, it was more serious. During Lent, the church forbade the consumption of most animal products, including milk and eggs. You weren’t even supposed to have them in the house, so there would be a sense of urgency to use up any of the eggs, milk, sugar and flour that you had on hand. Hmm, eggs, milk, sugar, flour…yep, they add up to some pretty nice pancakes! And as regular, corporate fasting was also a part of Lent, a feast the night before it started was a very good idea indeed.
And thus the tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday was born. It’s a tradition I love. As Tuesday is a weekday and mornings start early at our house, my family and I usually enjoy thick, fluffy North American pancakes for our evening meal. Here’s a link to my favourite pancake recipe.
Occasionally, we indulge in the thin pancakes many British people prefer with lemon and sugar, but we have them as brandy soused orange scented Crêpes Suzette for dessert. Yes, they do taste just as good as they sound! The thing is, for us as Christians, the whole point of this feast is the reminder that Lent is imminent.
In our modern world, it is more important than ever that Shrove Tuesday is fun and inclusive, a bit of a celebration for everyone, regardless of their faith, on an ordinary weekday during what can be a dull, cold month. However, it feels a bit like political correctness gone mad to refer to this significant day only as ‘Pancake Day’ and avoid mentioning its origin. Let’s remember the old traditions, even if it is nothing to do with our own faith, and honour the day by referring to it as Shrove Tuesday as well.
If this post resonated with you, you may also enjoy Pancakes for Shrove Tuesday.