Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday
Observed by Followers of many Christian denominations, excluding the Orthodox churches, and common custom
Type Christian
Date In seventh week before Easter, day before Ash Wednesday
2017 date February 28
2018 date February 13
2019 date March 5
Frequency Annual
Related to Ash Wednesday
Fat Thursday
Mardi Gras

Shrove Tuesday (also known in Commonwealth countries and Ireland as Pancake Tuesday or Pancake day) is the day in February or March immediately preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), which is celebrated in some countries by consuming pancakes. In others, especially those where it is called Mardi Gras or some translation thereof, this is a carnival day, and also the last day of "fat eating" or "gorging" before the fasting period of Lent.

This moveable feast is determined by Easter. The expression "Shrove Tuesday" comes from the word shrive, meaning "absolve".[1] Shrove Tuesday is observed by many Christians, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Roman Catholics,[2] who "make a special point of self-examination, of considering what wrongs they need to repent, and what amendments of life or areas of spiritual growth they especially need to ask God's help in dealing with."[3]

Being the last day of the liturgical season historically known as Shrovetide, before the penitential season of Lent, related popular practices, such as indulging in food that one sacrifices for the upcoming forty days, are associated with Shrove Tuesday celebrations, before commencing the fasting and religious obligations associated with Lent. The term Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday", referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday.


The tradition of marking the start of Lent has been documented for centuries. Ælfric of Eynsham's "Ecclesiastical Institutes" from around 1000 AD states: "In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance]".[4] By the time of the late Middle Ages, the celebration of Shrovetide lasted until the start of Lent.[5] Pancakes are commonly eaten on this day. Since foods such as butter, eggs and fat are discouraged from being eaten during the Lenten season, Christians use these ingredients during Shrovetide to make pancakes or other rich foods, such as fasnachts and pączkis.[6] The specific custom of Christians eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday dates to the 16th century.[6] Along with its emphasis on feasting, another theme of Shrove Tuesday involves Christians repenting of their sins in preparation to begin the season of Lent in the Christian calendar.[7] In many Christian parish churches, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, a popular Shrove Tuesday tradition is the ringing of the church bells (on this day, the toll is known as the Shriving Bell) "to call the faithful to confession before the solemn season of Lent" and for people to "begin frying their pancakes".[8][9]


The word shrove is a form of the English word shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one's sins by way of Confession and doing penance. Thus Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the custom for Christians to be "shriven" before the start of Lent.[10]

In the United Kingdom, Ireland and parts of the Commonwealth, Shrove Tuesday is also known as "Pancake Day" as it is a common custom to eat pancakes as a meal.[11][12][13][5] Elsewhere, the day has also been called "Fat Tuesday" or "Mardi Gras".[14]

In Germany, the day is known as Fastnachtsdienstag, Faschingsdienstag, Karnevalsdienstag or Veilchendienstag (the last of which translates to violet [the flower] Tuesday), and celebrated with fancy dress and partial school holiday. Similarly, in German American areas such as Pennsylvania Dutch Country, it is known as Fastnacht Day.[15]

In the Netherlands, it is known as "vastenavond", or in Limburgish dialect "vastelaovond", though the word "vastelaovond" usually refers to the entire period of carnival in the Netherlands.[16] In some parts of Switzerland (e.g. Lucerne), the day is called Güdisdienstag, preceded by Güdismontag. According to the Duden dictionary, the term derives from "Güdel", which means a fat stomach full of food Güdeldienstag.[17]

In Portuguese-, Spanish- and Italian-speaking countries, among others, it is known as Carnival (to use the English spelling). This derives from Medieval Latin carnelevamen ("the putting away of flesh")[18] and thus to another aspect of the Lenten fast. It is often celebrated with street processions or fancy dress.[16] The most famous of these events is the Brazilian Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, while the Venetians celebrate carnival with a masquerade.[19] The use of the term "carnival" in other contexts derives from here. In Spain, the Carnival Tuesday is named "día de la tortilla" ("omelette day"): an omelette made with some sausage or pork fat is eaten. On the Portuguese island of Madeira, they eat malasadas on Terça-feira Gorda (Fat Tuesday in English) which is also the last day of the Carnival of Madeira. Malasadas were cooked in order to use up all the lard and sugar in the house, in preparation for Lent.[20] This tradition was taken to Hawaii, where Shrove Tuesday is known as Malasada Day, which dates back to the days of the sugar plantations of the 1800s, the resident Catholic Portuguese (mostly from Madeira and the Azores) workers used up butter and sugar prior to Lent by making large batches of malasadas.[21]

In Denmark and Norway, the day is known as Fastelavn and is marked by eating fastelavnsboller. Fastelavn is the name for Carnival in Denmark which is either the Sunday or Monday before Ash Wednesday. Fastelavn developed from the Roman Catholic tradition of celebrating in the days before Lent, but after Denmark became a Protestant nation, the holiday became less specifically religious. This holiday occurs seven weeks before Easter Sunday, with children dressing up in costumes and gathering treats for the Fastelavn feast. The holiday is generally considered to be a time for children's fun and family games.[22]

In Iceland, the day is known as Sprengidagur (Bursting Day) and is marked by eating salted meat and peas.[20] In Lithuania, the day is called Užgavėnės. People eat pancakes (blynai) and Lithuanian-style doughnuts.[23][24] In Sweden, the day is called Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday), and is generally celebrated by eating a type of pastry called fastlagsbulle or semla.[20] In Finland, the day is called laskiainen and is generally celebrated by eating green pea soup and a pastry called laskiaispulla (sweet bread filled with whipped cream and jam or almond paste, same as the Swedish semla). The celebration often includes downhill sledging. In Estonia, the day is called Vastlapäev and is generally celebrated by eating pea soup and whipped-cream or whipped-cream and jam filled sweet-buns called vastlakukkel, similar to the Swedish fastlagsbulle or semla. Children also typically go sledding on this day.[25]

In Poland, a related celebration falls on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and is called tłusty czwartek (Fat Thursday). In some areas of the United States, with large Polish communities, such as Chicago, Buffalo and Michigan, Tłusty Czwartek is celebrated with pączki or faworki eating contests, music and other Polish food. It may be held on Shrove Tuesday or in the days immediately preceding it.[26]

In Slovenia, Kurentovanje is also the biggest and best known carnival.[27] There are several more local carnivals usually referred to as Laufarija. In Hungary, and the Hungarian-speaking territories, it is called Húshagyókedd[28] (literally the Tuesday leaving the meat) and is celebrated by fancy dress and visiting neighbours.


Pancakes are associated with the day preceding Lent, because they are a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. The liturgical fasting emphasizes eating simpler food, and refraining from food that would give undue pleasure: in many cultures, this means no meat, dairy products, or eggs.[29]

In Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island small tokens are frequently cooked in the pancakes. Children take delight in discovering the objects, which are intended to be divinatory. For example, the person who receives a coin will be wealthy; a nail indicates that they will become or marry a carpenter.[30][31]


In the United Kingdom, as part of community celebration, many towns held traditional Shrove Tuesday "mob football" games, some dating as far back as the 17th century. The practice mostly died out in the 19th century after the passing of the Highway Act 1835 which banned playing football on public highways.[32] A number of towns have maintained the tradition, including Alnwick in Northumberland (Scoring the Hales),[33] Ashbourne in Derbyshire (called the Royal Shrovetide Football),[34] Atherstone in Warwickshire (called simply the Atherstone Ball Game),[35] St Columb Major in Cornwall (called Hurling the Silver Ball), and Sedgefield in County Durham.[36]

Shrove Tuesday was once known as a "half-holiday" in Britain. It started at 11:00am with the ringing of a church bell.[37] On Pancake Day, "pancake races" are held in villages and towns across the United Kingdom. The tradition is said to have originated in 1445 when a housewife from Olney, Buckinghamshire, was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells ringing for the service. She raced out of the house to church while still carrying her frying pan and pancake, tossing it to prevent it from burning.[38][39] The pancake race remains a relatively common festive tradition in the UK, especially England. Participants with frying pans race through the streets tossing pancakes into the air and catching them in the pan while running.[40] The pancake race at Olney traditionally has women contestants who carry a frying pan and race over a 415-yard course to the finishing line. The rules are strict: contestants must toss the pancake at the start and the finish, and wear a scarf and apron.[38]

Since 1950 the people of Liberal and Olney, both in Kansas, US, have held the "International Pancake Day" race between the two towns. The two towns' competitors race along an agreed-upon measured course. The times of the two towns' competitors are compared to determine a winner overall. After the 2009 race, Liberal was leading with 34 wins to Olney's 25.[41] A similar race is held in North Somercotes in Lincolnshire, England.[42]

Scarborough celebrates by closing the foreshore to all traffic, closing schools early, and inviting all to skip. Traditionally, long ropes were used from the nearby harbour. The town crier rang the pancake bell, situated on the corner of Westborough (main street) and Huntriss Row. Since 1996 a replica "pancake bell" situated at Newborough and North Street has been rung to initiate the day's festivities.[43]

The children of the hamlet of Whitechapel, Lancashire keep alive a local tradition by visiting local households and asking "please a pancake", to be rewarded with oranges or sweets. It is thought the tradition arose when farm workers visited the wealthier farm and manor owners to ask for pancakes or pancake fillings.[44]

In Scandinavia, in particular in Finland and Sweden, the day is associated with the almond paste-filled semla pastry.[45]

Thin pancakes called blini are traditional in Christian festivals in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia also at this time of year (Maslenitsa).[46]

In London, the Rehab Parliamentary Pancake Race takes place every Shrove Tuesday, with teams from the British lower house (the House of Commons), the upper house (the House of Lords), and the Fourth Estate, contending for the title of Parliamentary Pancake Race Champions. The fun relay race is to raise awareness of Rehab, which provides a range of health and social care, training, education, and employment services in the UK for disabled people and others who are marginalised.[47]


Shrove Tuesday is exactly 47 days before Easter Sunday, a moveable feast based on the cycles of the moon. The date can be any between 3 February and 9 March inclusive.

Shrove Tuesday occurs on these dates:[48]

  • 2018 – 13 February
  • 2019 – 5 March
  • 2020 – 25 February
  • 2021 – 16 February
  • 2022 – 1 March
  • 2023 – 21 February
  • 2024 – 13 February
  • 2025 – 4 March
  • 2026 – 17 February
  • 2027 – 9 February
  • 2028 – 29 February
  • 2029 – 13 February
  • 2030 – 5 March
  • 2031 – 25 February
  • 2032 – 10 February
  • 2033 – 1 March
  • 2034 – 21 February
  • 2035 – 6 February
  • 2036 – 26 February
  • 2037 – 17 February
  • 2038 – 9 March
  • 2039 – 22 February
  • 2040 – 14 February
  • 2041 – 5 March
  • 2042 – 18 February
  • 2043 – 10 February
  • 2044 – 1 March
  • 2045 – 21 February
  • 2046 – 6 February
  • 2047 – 26 February
  • 2048 – 18 February
  • 2049 – 2 March
  • 2050 – 22 February
  • 2051 – 14 February
  • 2052 – 5 March
  • 2053 – 18 February
  • 2054 – 10 February
  • 2055 – 2 March
  • 2056 – 15 February
  • 2057 – 6 March
  • 2058 – 26 February
  • 2059 – 11 February
  • 2060 – 2 March
  • 2061 – 22 February
  • 2062 – 7 February
  • 2063 – 27 February
  • 2064 – 19 February
  • 2065 – 10 February
  • 2066 – 23 February
  • 2067 – 15 February
  • 2068 – 6 March
  • 2069 – 26 February
  • 2070 – 11 February
  • 2071 – 3 March
  • 2072 – 23 February
  • 2073 – 7 February
  • 2074 – 27 February
  • 2075 – 19 February
  • 2076 – 3 March
  • 2077 – 23 February
  • 2078 – 15 February
  • 2079 – 7 March
  • 2080 – 20 February
  • 2081 – 11 February
  • 2082 – 3 March
  • 2083 – 16 February
  • 2084 – 8 February
  • 2085 – 27 February
  • 2086 – 12 February
  • 2087 – 4 March
  • 2088 – 24 February
  • 2089 – 15 February
  • 2090 – 28 February
  • 2091 – 20 February
  • 2092 – 12 February
  • 2093 – 24 February
  • 2094 – 16 February
  • 2095 – 8 March
  • 2096 – 28 February
  • 2097 – 12 February
  • 2098 – 4 March
  • 2099 – 24 February
  • 2100 – 9 February

See also


  1. Melitta Weiss Adamson, Francine Segan (2008). Entertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313086892. In Anglican countries, Mardis Gras is known as Shrove Tuesday-from shrive meaning "confess"-or Pancake Tuesday"-after the breakfast food that symbolizes one final hearty meal of eggs, butter, and sugar before the fast. On Ash Wednesday, the morning after Mardi Gras, repentant Christians return to church to receive upon the forehead the sign of the cross in ashes.
  2. Shrove Tuesday inspires unique church traditions KATIE WALKER Archived 14 February 2016 at the Wayback Machine. 7 March 2011
  3. Shrove Tuesday DARREN PROVINE 1 March 2014
  4. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Shrovetide". Archived from the original on 14 September 2015. Retrieved 1 August 2015.
  5. 1 2 Self, David (1993). One Hundred Readings for Assembly. Heinemann. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-435-80041-3.
  6. 1 2 Collins, Tony; Martin, John; Vamplew, Wray (2005). Encyclopedia of Traditional British Rural Sports. Psychology Press. p. 202. ISBN 9780415352246. The association between pancakes and Shrove Tuesday appears to have its origins in the fact that the pancakes used up food such as butter, eggs and fat that were prohibited during Lent, which begins the following day on Ash Wednesday. ... Pancakes have been eaten on Shrove Tuesday since at least the sixteenth century. In some parishes it was the custom for the church bell to ring at noon as the signal for people to begin frying their pancakes.
  7. Stephens, Valerie. Basic Philosophy. p. 21. ISBN 9781329951747. Then there is Shrove Tuesday, which is the day observed before Ash Wednesday or Lent. Shrove Tuesday derives from the days where the earliest practicing Christians would repent of their sins and be “shriven” or pardoned.
  8. Cocks, Alfred Heneage (1897). The church bells of Buckinghamshire: their inscriptions, founders, and uses, and traditions; &c. Jarrold & sons. p. 276.
  9. Pulleyn, William (1828). The Etymological Compendium, Or Portfolio of Origins and Inventions. Richard Griffin and Company. p. 192.
  10. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Shrovetide". Archived from the original on 18 October 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
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