For centuries, January 6, also known as Twelfth Night or the Feast of the Epiphany, is the official start of the Carnival season that culminates on Mardi Gras– “Fat Tuesday” –also known as “Shrove Tuesday.”
The day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season, was the day to “fatten up” before the Lenten fast began. Lent is the annual season between Ash Wednesday and Easter when Catholic Christians gave up something of meaning to remember what Christ gave up for all believers.
While the Lenten fast today is observed only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, in earlier centuries, the fast was quite strict—no meat or items that came from animals, including butter, eggs, cheese and fat. So Shrove Tuesday was the day to use up all these products and making pancakes became the popular way to do that. In many countries, this day is also called Pancake Tuesday.
“Shrove” is the past tense of the word ‘’shrive” which means to hear a confession, assign penance and absolve from sin. It became the custom in the Middle Ages for people to confess their sins to day before Lent began on Ash Wednesday so as to enter the season in the right spirit. On Shrove Tuesday, bells were often rung in both Catholic and Protestant communities to remind parishioners to make their confessions at church and their pancakes at home before the day was out.
So…Mardi Gras and Shrove Tuesday are the same holiday, celebrating the same thing. A pancake party can be held just for your family and close friends. Since Tuesday is a school night, you will probably want to start your party at an early time like 5:00 or 6:00 pm. If you are hosting this at home, you could even make it a pancake and pajamas party.
You can also host a pancake party for a larger group like a church congregation, scout troop or club. Pancake suppers are easy to set up and make good fundraisers for organizations. If you have men in your group, they are frequently happy to flip pancakes on your cooking facility’s grill. If you have a food service line at your meeting facility, you can allow your guests to go through the line as they arrive.
To make this occasion more festive, you can have music playing in the background or a live jazz, Zydeco or Dixieland band to keep your guests in a lively mood. You can also have activities like face-painting, Mardi Gras faux tattoos, bead necklace-making, crafts and games like bingo.
You can plan a pancake party that uses the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold and green and accessories like jester hats or derbies, beads and noisemakers, or go in a totally different direction. For example, you could use a cooking theme with white chef’s hats and black-and-white-checked cloths for your tables.
One special activity that dates back to the Middle Ages is a pancake-tossing race. Legend has it that an English woman was so busy making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells ringing for the service. She ran out of the house while still carrying her frying pan and pancake, tossing it to keep it from burning. Many English towns still have this traditional pancake race–the participants race for the finish line with their frying pans and have to toss their pancakes while running. This kind of race could be done by adults or children in a parking lot or grassy area, and would be a fun culmination to the evening.
Have a separate beverage station where guest can pour themselves milk, coffee, juice or water. Have another station for a pancake toppings buffet. You will want butter, syrups, fruit like blueberries and strawberries, and yogurt. You might also have peanut butter, Nutella, whipped cream, and cream cheese spreads for the pancakes and bacon and sausage patties as accompaniments.
Try your hand at flipping pancakes and then dig in for the warm comfort of pancakes with all the toppings. What better way to celebrate “Shrove Tuesday” with your family and friends! Enjoy!