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  • Writer's pictureGrace Episcopal Church

Shrove Tuesday

By Cheryl Arnold

Grace will celebrate Shrove Tuesday on March 1 with a pancake supper in the Parish House at 6:00 p.m. Shrove Tuesday (also known as Fat Tuesday and Pancake Day) is the last day of Shrovetide, a three-day period of feasting just before Ash Wednesday, which begins the Lenten season of fasting and penitence. Shrovetide dates all the way back to the Middle Ages and was a time to use up rich ingredients such as butter, milk, sugar, and eggs, which led to the tradition of eating pancakes.

The word shrove comes from the Germanic-Old English word shrive, which means absolve. In preparation for Lent, Christians would go to church on Shrove Tuesday for confession and be “shriven” (absolved of their sins) by their priest. They would then choose an act of penance, which might be giving something up or engaging in acts of service. Ælfric of Eynsham, an English abbot, wrote the following around 1000 A.D. “In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance].”

In the Middle Ages, churches would ring their bells around 11 a.m. to call the faithful to confession and to encourage people to begin frying their pancakes. According to an English legend from 1445, a woman from Olney in Buckinghamshire heard the shriving bell while she was making pancakes and ran to the church wearing her apron, still clutching her frying pan and tossing the pancake to keep it from burning. The Olney pancake race quickly became a tradition in the following years and was even run during The War of the Roses (1445-1487). The rules of the race in Olney are strict. Competitors must be local housewives wearing aprons, hats, and scarves. The housewives run the course with a frying pan containing a hot pancake and must toss it three times during the race. The first woman to arrive at the church, serve her pancake to the bellringer and be kissed by him is the winner. The “pancake bell” is still rung on Shrove Tuesday by churches in many English towns today.

As time went on, many other towns in England as well as other countries began their own Shrove Tuesday celebrations. In the United States, churches often host pancake suppers as a time of fun and fellowship before the more solemn Lenten season. We hope you can join us this Tuesday for pancakes, fun, and fellowship in the Parish House!

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