Pancake Day is always a good excuse to pig out! This year it’s on the 28th of February, and as it is something most of us will be looking forward to, we thought we’d find out about how the day is marked around the world.
Also known as Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day is believed to have originated as a Pagan holiday, celebrating the arrival of spring. Since the Christian era, pancakes have been eaten on this day to use up foods like eggs and milk before the fasting period of Lent.
In France, the day is better known as Fat Tuesday and comes on the 40th day after Christmas – on February 2nd.
Its name comes from the tradition of parading a fat ox through the streets of Paris as a reminder to people to not eat meat for the next six and a half weeks until Easter. As part of this carnival people commonly disguise themselves in crazy masks!
In Denmark, Pancake Day is called Fastelavn and is marked on the Sunday or the Monday before Shrove Tuesday. Instead of pancakes it is custom to eat Danish style buns with whipped cream and / or jam in the middle. Typically kids will all meet up ‘to hit the cat out of the barrel’ (no, nobody’s hitting a barrel with a cat inside, fortunately!) The barrels are filled with sweets.
The kids bash the barrel until it breaks and the two to bash the best are crowned Cat King and Queen!
Traditionally, instead of eating pancakes on Pancake Day, Swedes eat a delicious cardamom almond-paste and whipped cream filled bun (a cardamom version of Scottish Cream Buns) called Semlor. The day is locally known as Fettisdagen, which is Swedish for Fat Tuesday. The making, eating and judging of Selmor is approached with great enthusiasm as many newspapers even hold competitions to find the best ones in town.
Instead of just a day, Russians have a ‘Pancake week’ locally known as Maslenitsa. This is normally the last week before Great Lent and during this period meat is already forbidden to Orthodox Christians but dairy products such as eggs, milk and cheese are still allowed, which has led to it being named cheese-fare or crepe week.
As Lent excludes parties, music, dance or any other distractions from spiritual life, Maslenitsa represents the last week where people have a chance to take part in social activities not appropriate for the more prayerful period coming up.
In England, the day is celebrated with great enthusiasm, as most of us have our frying pans all set a week in advance, ready to test our pancake flipping skills! Every year races take place across the country where people run with a pancake in a pan and they have to toss it several times as they go. This tradition is believed to have originated back in the 15th century after a woman in Olney lost track of time while cooking pancakes. According to the story, when the bells for mass rang the woman ran out of her house with the pan and pancake still in hand.