04 March 2011

Shrove Tuesday

Although not a real church festival, Shrove Tuesday is when English folks used up all their eggs and butter to ready for the Lenten fast.  So, traditionally, everyone feasted on pancakes!  Sometimes this day is called Fat Tuesday. 

Shrove (past participle of the verb shrive, according to the venerable Wikipedia) means to receive absolution ("to scrape off"). Often parishioners confessed and received absolution in preparation for receiving communion on Easter Sunday.  (By the way, Luther protested infrequent communion, offered to the laity only once or twice a year, at Christmas and Easter.  Thank God for frequent communion, even if it's only twice a month!)

On the continent, pre-Lent fun lasted several days, and was called Carnival ("goodbye to meat").
Instead of just flipping pancakes, large city-wide parades and masquerade balls are held. Originating in Italy (traditional Carnivale foods, if you're interested: fritelle, crespelle, sfingi, castagnole, cenci, nodi, chiacchere, bugie, galani, fritole, berlingaccio, sanguinaccio and tortelli), the French borrowed the idea and developed Mardis Gras.

I have always thought of Fat Tuesday and Mardis Gras unfavorably, probably because of the debauchery modern New Orleans promotes.  However, celebrations on the Continent seemed more like our Halloween--a time to dress up in costumes and masks and have fun.  (Many of the children found after the bombing of Dresden on Shrove Tuesday, 1944, were in costume.)

Other Trivia
*In Sweden, semla is traditionally only to be eaten on Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday). 
*Those crazy Danes: "One popular custom is the fastelavnsris, a switch that children use to flog their parents to wake them up on Fastelavns Sunday."
*Those crazy Hungarians: "They perform a burial ritual to symbolise the end of winter and spike doughnuts on weapons to symbolise the defeat of Ottomans"

(Wikipedia has an extensive article on Shrove Tuesday, if you're interested in how your ethnic ancestors celebrated)

Tomorrow I will post some favorite Shrove Tuesday pancake recipes.


  1. Thanks for the history lesson! I knew a little about what Fat Tuesday was but this was very interesting.

    Like you I've always had a bad "impression" of Mardis Gras and even the practice of giving something up for Lent. But it's not a bad practice and I feel that when you've fasted from something then the feast is that much sweeter. I struggle every Lenten season with what to do or even whether to do that. Sigh. But I do know that I WILL be eating crepes on Tuesday. Thanks for the "filler" suggestions in previous post. Yum!

  2. Don't fret over what you should do! Pray about it and decide as a family what is best. Sometimes adding something to your day is a better Lenten observance (the time it takes will force you to "give up" something frivolous, or even damaging). Pr. Harrison suggests praying the litany each day.

    I don't think "giving something up for Lent" is a bad practice, but it does sometimes remind me of the RC "offer it up" tradition (where we supposedly offer our sufferings for the sake of those in purgatory, making a tiny sacrifice to be joined to Christ's sacrifice). I don't mean people I know--even RCs--who have given something up intend this, but it always reminds me of it.

    I think of Lent as a wonderful time of the year where we can dwell on repentance and repenting and self-examination in light of God's Word (just as in Advent we meditate on Christ's comings, Christmas his incarnation, Epiphany God revealing himself to all people), and as Lutherans we should be pretty comfortable with that, no matter how we observe the season!