It’s time for Shrove Tuesday, also called Pancake Day, Mardi Gras, and Carnival. And I’m excited, not only because we will eat pancakes but also because it means we are only a day away from Lent, my favorite season of the year!
The End of the Carnival
The word Carnival comes from the Latin expression, carne levare, or “remove meat.” Carnival is filled with celebration and merrymaking as we empty our larders of all the things we cannot consume during Lent.
If you are like me, when you think of this day, you probably envision rich foods, elaborate parades, huge crowds, beads being thrown, and excessive partying and drunkenness. But the day is actually a transition day, moving God’s people from the season of Epiphanytide to the season of Lent. It is a day suspended between two worlds. Yes, It is a day of feasting and using up all of our fatty foods, but it is also a day of confessing our sins and preparing our hearts for the start of Lent.
Even in New Orleans, where Mardi Gras has become so secularized, there are no parades after 2:00 p.m., honoring the tradition that a more penitential time begins at sundown. Even if you are a die-hard partier and you continue to hang out in the French Quarter to keep the party going, the party abruptly ends at midnight. There is an elaborate parade, but this time, it is a parade of police officers walking down the streets, forcefully announcing that the party is over, followed by street sweepers that clean the streets. At the stroke of midnight, Mardi Gras is over, and Lent has begun.
Shrove Tuesday and Other Names
The name Shrove Tuesday points to the penitential character of the day. The word shrove comes from the Old English word “shrift” and means to confess one’s sins. Traditionally, on this day, the church bells would ring, letting the townspeople know that it was time to go to church to confess one’s sins before Lent began. They would also bring their palm crosses from the previous Palm Sunday, where the palms were burned and ground up to be the ashes for the Ash Wednesday service.
By contrast, Mardi Gras and Pancake Day point to the feasting traditions associated with the day. Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, and Pancake Day refers specifically to bread made with eggs and milk.
Many food traditions developed around the world as Christians tried to use up all of the rich foods in their houses. In Mexico and Spain, they make what we call “French toast.” In France, they make King Cake. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, they make pancakes. It’s customary in Germany and Poland to make doughnuts filled with jam or cream. In Ukraine, they make thin pancakes called blini.
Celebrate Shrove Tuesday at Home
If you’d like to celebrate this special day at home with your family, here’s an easy guide:
Buy inexpensive Mardi Gras beads and let your kids decorate your home. Hang them from the chandelier or off of the dining room chairs. Let your kids dress up. They can make Mardi Gras masks and wear as many Mardi Gras beads as they want! Let them have fun!
Make rich foods like pancakes, King Cake, or doughnuts. Use up all of your meats, such as sausage and bacon. Put out colored sugar, whipped cream, chocolate chips, syrup, or whatever you want. You are trying to create merriment and joy, so let them feast and have fun! We are celebrating the goodness of the Lord!
Hold a pancake race! In England, the tolling of the bells became known as the pancake bell because it was time to have your pancakes cooked up. An Olney, England, legend tells of a woman who was so busy making pancakes for Shrove Tuesday that she lost track of time and was still flipping her pancakes when the church bells began to ring for the start of the church service. Hurrying to get to the church on time, she ran out of her house while still carrying the frying pan and flipping the pancakes. That is why England holds pancake races on Shrove Tuesday. A Mom Pro-Tip: Give your kids cool pans with already-cooked pancakes. Have them race a course as they flip their pancakes.
After you have finished feasting and your kids are ready for bed, gather together and transition into a time of prayer. Explain to your children that you are now entering a new time called Lent, a special time set aside to prepare our hearts for Easter.
Explain to them that your family will mark this time by making some changes to your lives. As a family, you will be changing how you eat, praying more together, reading the Bible more together, and collecting alms for the poor. Spend time allowing them to talk about or think about what they want to give up during Lent.
Close your time by reading Isaiah 25:6-9 together.
Recipe: Easy Fluffy Pancake For Shrove Tuesday
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup buttermilk or milk
Melt the butter. When cool, blend in the egg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the egg, butter, and buttermilk to the dry ingredients. Whisk until smooth. Heat a griddle to medium-low heat. Melt one tablespoon of butter on the griddle. Pour out batter, making small circles. Flip when golden brown. Drizzle with honey or syrup. Makes 2-3 servings.