During the week before Lent, sometimes called Shrovetide in English, Christians were expected to go to confession in preparation for the penitential season of turning to God.
Shrove Tuesday was the last day before the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, and noted in histories dating back to 1000 AD. The word shrove is the past tense of shrive, which means to confess. In the Middle Ages, this day was a time for people to confess their sins and ask forgiveness for them. This allowed Christians to enter into the season of Lent and prepare for Easter with a clean spirit.
It is also a day for frolicking – several places schedule pancake races. (We had one in 2011.) They race down streets carrying a frying pan with a cooked pancake in it and flipping it as you race.
Other names for this day include Carnival (farewell to meat) and Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday of the French tradition). Ironically, masks play an important role in many celebrations of Carnival around the world. What a shame that we can’t gather in person in our masks for a real Carnival celebration!
It is believed that Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday started in 1445 in Olney. Olney is in Buckinghamshire, England. A lady was getting carried away with making pancakes when she heard the church bells for the Shrove Tuesday mass. She was late! The lady ran to the church with all of her pancakes and that’s where the pancake tradition started.
To shrive someone, in old-fashioned English (he shrives, he shrove, he has shriven OR he shrives, he shrived, he has shrived), is to hear his acknowledgment of his sins, to assure him of God’s forgiveness,and to give him appropriate spiritual advice. The term survives today in ordinary usage in the expression “short shrift”. To give someone short shrift is to pay very little attention to his excuses or problems. The longer expression is, “to give him short shrift and a long rope,” which formerly meant to hang a criminal with a minimum of delay.
Shrove Tuesday was the day for consuming dairy products. By giving up dairy products, people marked Jesus’ 40 days and nights in the wilderness .This custom is a remnant of an earlier tradition in which people prepared for the Lenten fast by using up food in their homes that they would not be eating during the season of Lent. These ingredients were made into pancakes, a meal which came to symbolize preparation for the discipline of Lent. It is exactly 47 days before Easter
For more information on Shrove and Shrove Tuesday, see this link
So how can we do this at home away from the church or even a large group setting ?
- On Shrove Tuesday, cook your pancakes at home with your family. Your conversation around the table could include the following Shrove Tuesday themes.
- Recall a past Shrove Tuesday. Share with the others what your plans are for Lent—do you plan to give up something or to take up something with the intent of growing closer to God and to creation? How do you plan to focus on God?
- Choose a devotional reading to share. One possibility is “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:10-12 (NRSV). Psalm 51 is described as a prayer for cleansing and forgiveness. Why is forgiveness important? What does having a clean heart mean to you?
- Consider adding a service opportunity during the 40 days of Lent. It may be for a sick or dependent neighbor. Or do something for the neighborhood like picking up trash or planting a tree.