As the nation takes to the kitchen to whip up some treats for Pancake Day, we might well forget the religious significance of our flipping antics.
Shrove Tuesday – better known as Pancake Day – was traditionally when Christian believers used up all the rich foods in their larders by making pancakes, before they began fasting for Lent.
Pancake Day 2021 falls on Tuesday, February 16.
In some countries, Pancake Day is called Mardi Gras – which is French for Fat Tuesday and refers to all the overindulging in rich, fatty foods in preparation for the abstinence of Lent.
The word ‘shrove’ refers to the practice of going to confession and being ‘shriven’ (forgiven for sins).
The next day is Ash Wednesday, when ashes were used to make a cross on the foreheads of churchgoers to symbolise repentance for sins. That’s on February 17 this year and usually the start of Lent.
Ash Wednesday falls about six weeks before Easter. It varies because Easter is a ‘moveable feast’ – a religious celebration that shifts around the calendar each year.
Once the date of Easter is known in any given year, then Ash Wednesday and Lent can be given their place on the calendar
To find out how Easter is worked out and when it will be in 2021, see our guide
The earliest possible date for Ash Wednesday is February 4, while the latest date is March 10.
What is Lent and how long does it last?
Lent is an important event in the Christian calendar.
It traditionally lasts 40 days and leads up to Easter.
Most know it as a time of year when people give up luxuries such as alcohol or chocolate.
The date of Lent varies each year – and on top of that, some denominations observe it differently.
It commemorates the 40 days and nights that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness, resisting temptation from the Devil.
This is why people give up luxuries and take part in fasting.
The name comes from an Old English word meaning ‘spring season’ – and that itself might derive from an old German word translating as ‘long.’ That probably refers to the arrival of longer days or to the length of this religious custom.
The various Christian denominations work out the dates of Lent in different ways and even official documents appear to contradict each other.
It’s usually sometime between early February and early March.
Most commonly, people follow the Western tradition that says Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday.
The start of Lent in 2021 is February 17. For the Catholic Church, it ends 44 days later on the evening of Holy Thursday (April 1), the day before Good Friday (April 2), and for Anglicans and Methodists it ends 46 days later on the evening of Holy Saturday (April 3), the day before Easter Sunday (Easter Day, April 4).
Eastern and Oriental Christian churches have their own ways of deciding the dates of Lent.
Lent is marked by abstinence, fasting, prayer and a greater sense of charity towards others.
Fasting generally requires having just one proper meal a day, and one or two light meals (called collations) at other times of day “to sustain strength but not sufficient to satisfy hunger.”
Many people also take part in abstaining from luxuries or guilty pleasures.
In the past, people typically gave up meat (except fish), eggs and dairy and followed a mostly vegetarian diet during Lent.
These days, they tend to give up such indulgences as smoking, alcohol, chocolate, sweets, coffee, meat, crisps, fizzy drinks, television or social media.