Need an excuse to chow down on pancakes? Try Fat Tuesday

Marc LaVoie
February 24, 2020 - 4:00 am
artisteer - iStock - Getty Images Plus

Pancakes with butter and syrup with coffee in the background.


Everybody knows about Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but not everybody observes Fat Tuesday in the same way.

There are other terms for the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, when Christians cinch up their belts and live more simply. In some denominations, including the Anglican and Episcopal churches, it's called Shrove Tuesday. "Shrove" comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word, and it means "absolved of sins."

Leading into the Lenten season, it's traditional for the faithful to clear their cupboards of rich foods, including fats, eggs and sugar. Episcopal churches observe the custom by eating pancakes.

The Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Kansas City has been serving pancakes for years on the Sunday morning before Lent begins, but this year they're doing it on Tuesday evening, hoping to bring in more visitors with their parishioners.

OLNEY, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09: Competitors take part in the annual Shrove Tuesday trans-Atlantic pancake race on February 9, 2016 in Olney, England. On Shrove Tuesday every year the ladies of Olney, Buckinghamshire compete in a Pancake Race, a tradition wh
"It's certainly nothing from the teaching of the church or anything like that, it's custom," said Rev. Christy Dorn, one of the priests at the cathedral. "Usually, it's just kind of a fun opportunity to come together."

Some people believe the pancake tradition comes from a legend from Olney, England, where a housewife is said to have heard the church bells on Shrove Tuesday, and run all the way to the church, still holding a skillet, tossing the pancake on the way to keep it from burning. The town has held women's-only pancake races since 1445.  

Since 1950, Olney women have run races against women in Liberal, Kansas. Both cities observe old rules that require racers to wear "traditional housewife" aprons and head scarves. The women toss their pancakes once at the beginning of the 415-yard run and once at the end. 

Pre-Lenten festivals typically involve one last feast, a blowout before a season of fasting and prayer. Mardi Gras, "Fat Tuesday" in French, encourages people to eat, drink and be merry. Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is one of the world's largest celebrations. 

"Carnival" is derived from the Latin words "caro," meaning flesh, and "levare," to put aside.

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