Did you know that there is a day that is set aside to celebrate pancake? The pancake you take for breakfast.
Whether it is sugar and lemon, maple syrup, bacon or even chocolate spread that tickles your fancy, Pancake Day, also known as “Shrove Tuesday” is unarguably one of the best days of the year (for those with pancake eating tradition). It’s a time people get to show off their epic pancake flipping skills.
Let’s explore how some countries celebrate pancake day.
On the last Sunday before Lent, Danish toy stores and bakery windows fill with toy cats, wooden barrels and lots of freshly baked buns. These golden buns are decked with an assortment of sweet fillings including whipped cream, strawberry jam and melted milk chocolate. Why you may wonder? That’s because it’s “Fastenlavn” – Denmark’s version of pancake day!
Fastenlavn was originally the last day to feast on dairy foods, sweet flavours and special Danish buns before fasting for Lent. These days, it’s a chance for children to dress up as their favourite fiction characters and “hit the cat out of the barrel.”
Hitting the cat out of a barrel is an old Danish tradition carried out on Fastenlavn when Danish folks would gather to take it in turns to beat a wooden barrel with a stick. It is believed this was to scare the ‘evil’ cats which often slept inside barrels away from their town.
Well, with the turn of civilization, things have been tweaked. These days in Denmark, a cardboard box symbolises the wooden barrel and sweets represent the sleeping cat. There’s also a competition amongst the children to see which boy and girl can bash the ‘barrel’ the most. The winning boy and girl are then crowned Cat King and Cat Queen.
“Uzgavenes” is a popular Lithuanian festival which literally translates to ‘the time before Lent’.
Surprisingly enough, the festival takes place on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the fast begins on Ash Wednesday. The festival is a time of celebration full of humour, pranks, superstitions and plenty of food. It is often celebrated in public squares, large parks and family homes so that everyone can get involved.
During Uzgavenes, Lithuanian’s are encouraged to dress up as devils, witches, goats and beggars and wear fearsome wooden masks to scare off the upcoming winter. Fancy-dressers act foolishly to make each other laugh. They sing, dance, throw water at each other and pull pranks throughout the day. Those participating are also urged to walk around and beg for pancakes and money – similar to trick or treating at Halloween.
Indulging in potato pancakes, doughnuts and boiled pork is also part of the festival fun. In fact, a funny old wives’ tale encourages Lithuanian’s to eat at least 12 meals during Shrove Tuesday, in preparation for the fast.
Canada’s pancake day celebrations begin on Shrove Tuesday and mark the last day of indulgence before giving up meat, eggs, milk and butter for the 40 days of Lent.
Slightly different to other places, Canadian pancakes are typically served with maple syrup, partridgeberry jam and sausages. However, on Shrove Tuesday, Canadian’s tend to add something extra to their pancake batter. Traditionally Canadian’s add small objects to their pancake mix like coins, buttons, rings or string and each item is said to have its own special meaning. For example, is it believed that the lucky one who finds a shiny coin in their pancake will be rich, however, the unlucky one who bites down on a button will become a seamstress or tailor and work for the rest of their life.
Back in the 17th century, Polish ancestors used to celebrate Shrove Tuesday by indulging in lard, bacon and vodka for a whole week, before fasting for Ash Wednesday. They called this their ‘Fat Week’.
In more recent times, the Polish have realised the health conditions associated with consuming such contents for seven days straight, and instead created a much shorter tradition with healthier options.
Fat Thursday is celebrated on the last Thursday before Lent and consists of feasting on only pancakes locally called nalesniki, pastries referred to as chrusciki and jam-filled doughnuts called paczki, for one whole day. Fat Thursday is considered to be one of the busiest days of the year in Poland, with many bakeries and cake shops opening in the early hours of the morning to prepare the thousands of doughnuts and pastries which will be eaten that day.
It has been said that the average Polish person eats at least three doughnuts on Fat Thursday, which equates to roughly 1,200 calories – all in one day!
The Brits’ celebrate pancake day too. So, here’s a brief history lesson of how and why Shrove Tuesday (pancake day) came about.
The word Shrove means to confess and this is exactly what Christians used to do before they indulged in pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.
Christians would confess their sins at church and then go home to empty their cupboards before fasting for the next 40 days of Lent. This allowed Christians to enter the season of Lent and prepare for Easter with a clean spirit and home.
Instead of throwing food away, Christians would use their remaining eggs, milk and fatty foods to create a pancake mix… and this is how pancake day came about.
In France, fatty foods are eaten on the day known as “Mardi Gras” (Fat Tuesday). Pancakes or crepês are however part of France’s celebrations of la Chandleleur or Candlemas which is held on 2nd February each year. For the French, there’s progression to Pancake Day which is why the idea of using up rich foods like eggs, milk and sugar to make pancakes before the 40 days of fasting happens.
According to oral tale, the actual tradition of mixing up the main ingredients for pancakes is said by some to be from a pagan ritual, while others say it is a Christian tradition with each ingredient representing one of the four pillars of the faith. Eggs for creation, flour as the sustenance or the staff of life, salt for wholesomeness and milk for purity.Whichever way it is, thousands of people enjoy, rich pancakes on this day.
So, when next you visit any of the countries on a Shrove Tuesday, let your hair down and enjoy some of these weird and wonderful pancake day traditions yourself.
What food traditions do you have in your local community? Do share with us in the comment section.