Today is Shrove Tuesday, possibly better known as, Pancake Day!
On this feast day Christians traditionally use up all the luxuries in their home ready for forty days of self-denial and purification leading up to Easter. It is difficult to pin down why pancakes became such a tradition on this day but we know that they are a really old food whose ingredients have come to be have symbolic significance: Eggs ~ Creation; Flour ~ The staff of life; Salt ~ Wholesomeness; Milk ~ Purity. Shrove Tuesday is so-called because Christians went to confession and were “shriven” (absolved from their sins). A bell would be rung to call people to confession. This came to be called the “Pancake Bell” and is still rung today.
There are several quirky local events centred on Shrove Tuesday around the country.
One of the most famous and oldest takes place in Olney Buckinghamshire. Dating back to 1445, the story goes that a harassed housewife, hearing the shriving bell, dashed to the Church still clutching her frying pan containing a pancake. Since then the women of the town have held a race on this day tossing a pancake on their way to church. Today, competitors have to wear the traditional costume of a housewife, including a skirt, apron and head covering and must, of course, carry a frying pan containing a pancake. The winner, on crossing the 415 yard-line , must toss her pancake and she is then greeted by the verger with the traditional kiss of peace. The race is immediately followed by a Shriving service in the Parish Church when the official Olney and Liberal prizes are presented.
If you think this sounds like fun and want to join in – there’s a problem – you have to have lived in Olney for at least three months to qualify. No reason you can’t flip a pancake or two where you live! Happy Pancake Day everyone.