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The origins of Pancake Day

Whether you like them sweet or savoury, with maple syrup, jam or the traditional lemon and sugar, pancake day is more than just a chance to eat lovely food, it is important for Christians all around the world. This year pancake day falls on Tuesday 25th February, Features Writer Rob Bullock, a staunch sugar and lemon pancake fan, looks at the origins of this celebration and comes up with some interesting facts. 



Pancake day, also known as Pancake Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras traditionally falls on the last day of feasting before Lent which begins on the following day, Ash Wednesday. Many think that the day gets its name from the custom of eating pancakes on this day, a tradition that goes back to a time when any remaining rich foods in a household’s larder or pantry were eaten on the day before Lent to use them up before the fasting begins, but in reality it is a much older tradition. 

Eating up food from the larder

The Christian tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday has been around for more than a thousand years. In the days before people could give up modern snacks such as chocolate and crisps, and before the day of fridges and freezers, making pancakes was a way of using up foods such as eggs, milk and sugar, which would have gone bad during the fasting season of Lent. But today, it’s a good excuse to enjoy some great food! 

Pre-Christian festival 

As with many Christian traditions, pancake day has been borrowed from a much older pagan festival. 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, and people believed that they had to help Jarilo in his efforts. The whole celebration of the arrival of spring lasted a week and a large part of this was making and eating pancakes. The hot, round pancakes symbolised the sun and the Slavs believed that by eating pancakes, they got the power, light and warmth of the sun. 

Ancient tradition of flipping!

On Shrove Tuesday in kitchens all around the world, people will be flipping pancakes in an annual tradition. Recipes for pancakes appear in cookery books that go as far back as the 1400s, and it’s believed the tradition of flipping pancakes is almost as old as that. But one of the oldest ‘flipping’ quotes comes from the 17th century book, Pasquil’s Palin, “And every man and maide doe take their turne, And tosse their pancakes up for feare they burne.” 

Interesting pancake facts;

• Pancake races are said to have originated in Olney in Buckinghamshire when a housewife was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time. When she heard the church bells ringing to call people to Mass she ran out of her house, still carrying her pan and pancake, and raced for the church! Olney still has a pancake race every year.

• The longest race in the quickest time was held in Melbourne, Australia. Jan Stickland covered 384m in 59.5 seconds on 19 February 1985.

• On average, people in the UK eat two pancakes each on Pancake Day. That means that 117 million pancakes are eaten on the day.

• In France it is traditional to touch the handle of the frying pan and make a wish while the pancake is turned whilst holding a coin in one hand.

• On pancake day in Newfoundland, Canada, people place items in the pancake batter before it is cooked to tell the future for family members.

• Years ago, cooks would use snow in their pancakes as it made them soft and fluffy in texture. If you want to try, better make sure it’s clean snow!

So, whether you like your pancakes savoury or the more traditional sweet, if you prefer golden syrup or maple syrup, or something new like Blueberry syrup, or whether like me you’re a good old lemon and sugar fan, is doesn’t really matter, what really matters is sitting down with the people you love and enjoying this age old tradition. Happy Pancake Day! 



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