Today’s Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day…
Musing on ancient customs and religious roots…
It’s a day of penitence and confession in preparation for the start of Lent tomorrow.
Over 1000 years ago a monk wrote in the Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical Institutes: ‘In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him..’
Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the ritual of ‘shriving’ where a person confesses their sins and receives absolution for them from the priest. Sins are forgiven and their guilt and pain removed.
It’s a day of celebration as the last chance to feast before Easter.
Shrove Tuesday is also called Mardi Gras – the French for ‘Fat Tuesday’. Both originate in ancient pagan festivals for fertility and spring, filled with uninhibited immorality and indulgence in everything.
Christians adopted and adapted this festival in a day of feasting, using up foods that weren’t allowed in Lent – such as meat and fish: pancakes could use up butter, eggs, fats and milk that would also be given up during Lent.
It’s the day for deciding and declaring the Lent abstinence or sacrifice that’s being made.
Traditionally Lent, starting tomorrow, is a time of abstinence, fasting, prayer, giving things up. More recently some church traditions have been more positive, determining to do daily acts of generosity and kindness throughout Lent.
Either way it’s about living a more deliberate, disciplined life in preparation for Easter.
- Penitence – focusing on self-examination, reflecting on what I need to be sorry for and put right. Being shriven is a good thing!
- Pancakes – balancing the solemnity of confession with the joy of celebration.
- Preparation – being more disciplined in my life and considering abstinence or sacrifice.
- Personally – Easter is central to my Christian faith; Shrove Tuesday is the first step in my journey to get there.