As most people know- bloated bellies, empty fridges and the lingering smell of fried fat in the kitchen attest to it- Tuesday was Shrove Tuesday, aka Pancake Day.
Having grown up in Britain, we marked this yearly event with the village pancake race on the green, pancakes for school dinner and yet more pancakes at home in the evening. Never one for missing an “occassion”, my mum felt it necessary to have both sweet and savoury for dinner (though not in that order) and it’s fair to say that come 9pm on Shrove Tuesday, we kids were a sticky-fingered, sugar-rushing mess.
Fond foodie memories aside, I realised I’d never actually given any thought to the meaning of the word shrove at all, which came as something of a shock given my usual preoccupation with etymology. All I knew of Pancake Day was the gluttony and the fact it heralded the next 40 days filled with teachers even crabbier than usual for relinquishing whatever vice normally got them through the day- coffee, fags, or chocolate Hobnobs.
Shrove Tuesday was traditionally a day for Christians to go to confession and observe penitence in preparation for Lent. Many people would go to church to be absolved (shriven) of their sins (shrove is the past tense of the verb to shrive) and pancakes came about as a way to use up foods and ingredients typically given up during the Lent period of fasting.
The tradition is celebrated in other countries too, often known as Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) and again with focus on feasting and frolicking before the austerity of Lent begins. During the Middle Ages it became common practice to forego meat, eggs and dairy products as these were thought to be most tasteful and health promoting, and as such, incompatible with the ascetic discipline required of Lent. So, basically vegan then!
Although I am not religious at all, there are certain events in both the Christian and Pagan calendars I like to celebrate for their sharing, compassionate, soul-enriching ideals. Christmas is the obvious one, but also Easter, Midsummer, and the Winter Solstice. Lent is one that I have only this year decided to mark, simply because I like the (not necessarily religious) idea of self-reflection and contemplation on how to live an ethical and virtuous life. Long before Christianity, philosophers were extolling the benefits of introspection and self-analysis as part of a balanced life, and I think this time of the year with Spring around the corner is the perfect time for more meditation, being as charitable as possible and knocking hedonism on the head for a few weeks.
So, this Lent I have decided to give up coffee and complaining and take more time for meditating, running and journalling. If you come across someone looking as crabby as her teachers before her, but unable to moan about it, that’ll be me!
Thanks for reading, and wishing you all a wonderful Lent, whether you’re marking it or not 🙂
Are you doing anything special for Lent? What things do you celebrate during the year? Let me know below!