So why do we celebrate eating pancakes?

 

Pancakes on plate
Pancakes on pancake day

I love pancakes. So having a day to celebrate them is my idea of heaven. But why do we?

Okay, so we’re not really celebrating pancakes. We are celebrating Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras (sometimes known as Fat Tuesday in America, Sweden and France) and Carnival Tuesday in Trinidad and Tobago.

The name Shrove Tuesday comes from ‘shrive’, meaning absolution for sins by doing penance. A bell was rung to call Christians to go to Confession, where they admitted their sins to a priest and asked for absolution.

In France, it is called ‘Fat Tuesday’ because of the ancient custom of parading a fat ox through Paris. The ox was to remind the people that they were not allowed to eat meat during Lent.

So why is it called Pancake Day?

Pancake day came about much later on as a way of using up all the fats and foods that would not be eaten during fasting. In America it is called ‘Fat Tuesday’ because people use up their ‘fatty foods’ before Lent.

I found this explanation of Pancake day in Denmark and how it has its roots in history.

“To the Dutch it is called “Vastenavond” or “Dikke Dinsdag”. It is celebrated in the southern regions of the Netherlands and marks the last day of a celebration called “carnaval”. After this celebration a time of cleansing is done. Traditionally, around the start of February there would be a feast. This was the last opportunity to eat well before a time of food shortage at the end of the winter. On what nowadays is called “Vastenavond” meaning “the days before fasting” everyone ate the remaining winter stores of butter, lard, and meat before it began to rot, as livestock was slaughtered in the previous November.

It can’t be a coincidence that Lent is timed to match these lean months, with fasting helping the remaining food last longer.

Celebrating before fasting

This tradition of celebrating and then fasting happens in religions across the world.

In Hinduism it is believed that many diseases and damages to one’s body come from harmful substances in the digestive system. Hence, by fasting, one can purify himself, put his body to rest, and become healthier. Buddhists believe that fasting shows their determination to stay away from selfish desires, save the planet and all living creatures, and control their own greed. Muslims feel the most important reason to fast is for muslims to cleanse their bodies to present themselves to God and forgiveness for all their sins. Jews believe fasting will help them focus and bring them closer to forgiveness.

And before there was religion, there was nature. Hunting, foraging and storing food occured without fridges and freezers. So it makes sense that fasting occurred around this time, towards the end of Winter ready for Spring and the new seasonal foods she brought.

There is a common theme here. Indulge before fasting. We eat up all the good foods and then limit what we eat for so many weeks afterwards. Now what does that remind you of? Oh yes, Christmas. We eat all the rich and decadent foods and then go on a diet in January. Indulge before fasting. You might not be religious but I’m sure you’ve done this.

Pancakes and traditions

Celebrating Pancake day is a really old tradition but I found some other interesting traditions for Pancake day.

In Ireland, Pancakes would be cooked on the stove, and the honour of tossing the first pancake would go to the eldest, unmarried daughter. If she was successful, she would be married within the year.

In Canada, objects with symbolic value are baked into the pancakes, such as coins, nails, wedding rings and buttons. The lucky one to find coins in their pancake will be rich, the finder of the ring will be the first married, the finder of the nail will become a carpenter and the finder of the button will be a seamstress or tailor.

Dating back as far as the 12th century, many towns throughout England used to hold traditional Shrove Tuesday football (‘Mob Football’) games. Some still do. For two hours, men and women take part in  a ruby type of scrum to claim the football. Streets are closed and shops are boarded up to minimise the damage. Anything goes, and the only rule is that the ball is not allowed to leave the town’s boundaries. When the time is up, the man with the football in his hands is declared the winner, and gets to keep the ball as a trophy.

World record pancakes

  1. The tallest stack of pancakes is 101.8 cm (213 pancakes) and was made by Center Parcs Sherwood Forest, UK on 8 February 2016. (Guinness Book of records)
  2. The most pancakes made in one hour by an individual is 1,127 by Erica Price in Kansas, USA, on 17 April 2016.
  3. The Co-operative Union Ltd based in Manchester, England, made a pancake measuring 15.01 m in diameter and 2.5 cm deep on August 13, 1994.
  4. The oldest pancake race happened in 1445. According to legend, when the church bells rang for Shrove Tuesday service, a housewife wasn’t finished grilling the cakes. Not wishing to ruin her pancakes, she ran to the church with pan in hand. In memory of this housewife, women in Buckinghamshire, UK compete every Shrove Tuesday in a 415-yard race in which they must carry a pancake in a skillet.
  5. The Guinness Book of World Records does not recognize pancake eating as a category, but at an event at The Pancake Parlour in Melbourne, Australia, Hayden wilson ate 80 pancakes in 17 minutes and 26 seconds. That’s about 2.5kg of pancakes in less than 20 minutes.
  6. The fastest flipper of a pancake is Brad Jolly, who holds the record for most tosses of a pancake in one minute. He did 140 flips in 60 seconds during an event in Sydney, Australia in 2012.
  7. Dominic Cuzzacrea tossed his pancake 9.47 metres in the air at the Walden Galleria Mall in New York, USA, in November 2010.
  8. An incredible team made and flipped 76,382 pancakes in 8 hours at Centennial Olympic Park, Atlanta, USA, back in May 2009. A total of 175 volunteers using 37 griddles cooked the pancakes and dished them out to approximately 20,000 people.

I won’t be making 76,382 pancakes tonight although it will probably feel like it. And if you are eating out here are some ideas happening around London. Happy Pancake Day everyone.