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The History of Pancake Tuesday

Yummy crispy pancakes doused in lemon juice and sprinkled with sugar was the ubiquitous lunchtime treat on ‘Pancake Tuesday’ in every Irish home growing up in the 80s. Even now, kids still look forward to eating the greasy and sugary treat and every home has their variations on the ‘perfect’ recipe. But where does this sweet and fatty treat originate from?

Here at we’ve done some digging:

Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Tuesday as it is known just about everywhere, is a Christian feast day whose date is determined by Easter, and a day preceded by the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday). The expression ‘Shrove’ or ‘‘shrive’ means ‘to confess’ and this was a day celebrated in the Middle Ages as a period to confess one's sins and receive redemption before the beginning of Lent.

Feast Before Famine

As well as penitence, Shrove Tuesday, was a day to eat all your favorite fatty foods before the beginning of the Lenten fast. Up until relatively recently, fatty foods such eggs and dairy were forbidden during Lent, so the day before proved to be a perfect time to binge on pancakes which are essentially butter, eggs, and sugar. (It was also time to use up all the eggs and fat in the house before the fast began.)

Pagan Roots

Like lots of Irish and European celebrations, their roots began in Pagan traditions that were later embraced by the emergence of Christianity . During Pagan times, Eastern Europeans and Russians societies celebrated a week long springtime festival (celebrating the end of winter) and served pancakes along with playing games and other celebrations.

It was also believed that the round and golden shape and colour of the pancakes symbolised the Sun. The Sun, the giver of light and heat, was worshipped in pre christian societies and often effigies were made in praise of it.

Around the world

This ‘carnival’ time of spring celebration was, and still is, part of all European cultures and each country has their own fatty alternative to eat as part of celebration. In Ireland and Britain, we prepare a small flat crepe-like crispy pancake made out of eggs, flour and butter, that is served immediately and often with sweet toppings.

Elsewhere in the world, Pancake Day is known by other names, such as Mardi Gras (literally "fat Tuesday" in French), or Fasnacht (the Germanic "night of the fast"). In countries such as Australia, thicker pancakes are served, and in Canada they come with a side of sausages or bacon. In Sweden, a marzipan filled bun called ‘semla’ is eaten and in Poland, donuts or ‘faworki’ are the dish of the day.