With a rich history dating back hundreds of years, Pancake Day combines a delightful sense of celebration and fun with some deep and meaningful components. Always observed on the day before the religious holiday, Ash Wednesday, Pancake Day is associated with some other names, such as Shrove Tuesday (in the UK), Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday.
Now it’s time to learn about and celebrate the beauty of Pancake Day!
History of Pancake Day
Pancake Day has its roots in its association with Ash Wednesday, which is celebrated as the first day of Lent. Lent is a religious season of fasting that is observed by people of the Christian faith prior to Easter. With the number 40 having religious significance in Christianity, Lent is observed for 40 days before Easter, not counting Sundays–making it 46 days prior to Easter.
Traditionally, on this day a bell would be rung to call Christians to church before Lent to be absolved of their sins, or “shriven”, which is where the term Shrove Tuesday came from. This is a day of confession in the church.
Because Lent is meant to be a season of abstinence, back in 600 AD, Pope Gregory declared that Christians should abstain from eating meat, or other animal products during the entire Lent season, beginning on Ash Wednesday.
Essentially, Pancake Day developed out of the practical need to use up all of the remaining eggs, butter, milk or other animal products that were in the house before Lent began. So families began to look for what they could make quickly and easily that would use up these ingredients. And, at least in England and Ireland, the result turned into a day to make–and, of course, eat–copious numbers of pancakes!
Pancake Day Timeline
First Pancake Day
When Pope St. Gregory prohibited Christians from eating meat as well as animal products (such as eggs, butter and milk), Shrove Tuesday began as a final hurrah and a way to use up the ingredients left in the house. For Christians in England, this translated into making pancakes.
Pancake Day race is initiated
Tradition says that the Pancake Day Race tradition is started by a housewife from Olney who was so busy making pancakes, she was late for church. Upon hearing the bells ring, she ran out of the house still carrying her frying pan and flipping the pancakes on the way. The race is a nod to this story.
“Mob Football” games are played on Pancake Day
In celebration of the day, many people from communities leave their houses and join together to play a match of rudimentary football on the road or in the public square. The tradition mostly dies out after 200 years, but a few towns still participate in modern times.
First Skipping Day is recorded on Pancake Day
In the town of Scarborough, UK, the children and workers are given a half day off for Pancake Day. They celebrate by playing games on the beach (including skipping), and a festive atmosphere is created as stalls are set up to sell toys and trinkets.
Pancake Day race begins over the ocean
Olney, UK and Liberal, Kansas USA begin competing to see who has the best time on a Pancake Day race. Courses are marked out and participants time to see which town wins each year. The race still continues in the present with Liberal leading Olney 38-31 at last count.
How to Celebrate Pancake Day
Observing Pancake Day is certainly a delight for those who get involved with making and enjoying eating pancakes. Try out some of these fun ideas for celebrating, or come up with your own:
Make Pancakes at Home
Even for people who don’t consider themselves to be masters in the kitchen, pancakes are a fairly simple recipe that is fun to cook. Simply mix up a recipe that includes flour, eggs, butter or oil, milk or water, and a bit of sugar. For a fluffier, American-style pancake, baking powder might be used as a leavening agent and the pancakes will be a bit thicker.
Once the batter is mixed up, it can be poured in small or large portions onto a hot griddle and flipped so that each side is golden brown. Those who want to take part in a Pancake Day tradition will often practice the flipping portion ceremoniously and attach it to a variety of ideas about luck and fortune in the coming year.
Top them with lemon juice and powdered sugar for a British feel, or with maple syrup like Canadians or Americans.
Learn Fun Traditions About Pancake Day
Pancake Day comes with all kinds of different and fun traditions that families and cultures have included in celebration, like these:
- In Ireland, the tradition was that the Irish girls were given the afternoon off or work and the oldest unmarried girl of the family would toss the first pancake. If she was successful in flipping it, it was a sign that she would be married within the year.
- In Lithuania, similar to trick-or-treating for Halloween, people celebrating on this day might dress up in fancy costumes, play pranks, sing, dance and generally enjoy the day. Plus, they may also walk around begging to be given pancakes or money.
- Pancake flipping contests and races are a fun way that many people in England, Ireland and perhaps all over the world compete in races where they run while flipping their pancakes. Now that takes a lot of skill!
- In Scotland, special oatmeal pancakes (or ‘bannocks’) were cooked with a charm added into the batter. If an unmarried person found it in the cake they were eating, it was good luck and meant they would be married in the next year.
Go to an IHOP Restaurant for Pancake Day
Some restaurants that offer pancakes on their menu may be offering discounts, special prices, or unique menu items in celebration of Pancake Day. One such restaurant is the International House of Pancakes.
Most of the time, the celebratory offering for Pancake Day at IHOP includes offering free pancakes. Each guest who visits IHOP on this day can receive a free short stack (consisting of 3) of fluffy, buttermilk pancakes to go along with the rest of their meal. Plus, IHOP also uses the day for good by accepting donations and raising money for kids with medical needs through the Children’s Miracle Network, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and Shriners Children’s Hospitals.
With most of their locations in the United States, IHOP also has restaurants in Mexico and Canada, South America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, making it an option for people in many parts of the world to celebrate Pancake Day!
Try a New Pancake Recipe for Pancake Day
Though this is certainly a day for tradition, it might also be one to think beyond the norm! Pancakes are a delightfully simple recipe that can be altered and embellished in a variety of creative ways. Try out some of these ideas for adding a bit of zing to the ordinary pancake recipe:
- S’Mores Pancakes. Marshmallow fluff, chocolate chips and some graham cracker crumbs turn plain old pancakes into something unique and exciting that is reminiscent of being gathered around a campfire.
- Peppermint Hot Chocolate Pancakes. A delight for the senses, this recipe includes chocolate sauce and chocolate chips in the batter, as well as mini marshmallows and crushed peppermint candies sprinkled on top. Indulgent and delicious!
Blueberry Lemon Ricotta Pancakes. Enjoy the sweetness with a balance of cheese with this light and fluffy recipe. Simply mix ricotta cheese and lemon zest into the batter, add fresh or frozen blueberries, and top with powdered sugar after cooking.
Pancake Day FAQs
When is Pancake Day?
Pancake Day is celebrated on different dates each year based on the church calendar, but it always falls 47 days prior to Easter Sunday.
What is Pancake Day?
Associated with the religious season of Lent that falls prior to Easter, Pancake Day (or Shrove Tuesday) is the day prior to Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent in Western churches. Because Lent typically includes fasting, Pancake Day was the last day to use eggs, sugar and fat that would not be eaten during the fasting period.
Is Pancake Day international?
Although it may have different names, this day is celebrated in many English-speaking countries around the world. Some countries, like France and the US, call it Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. In other countries, like Spain and Brazil, this day comes at the end of Carnival.
Why is Pancake Day different every year?
Pancake Day always falls on a Tuesday, 47 days before Easter. Easter is a movable holiday that falls on a Sunday but changes each year based on the cycles of the moon. It can range anywhere from February 3 to March 9.
How is Pancake Day Celebrated?
The most important thing is, of course, to eat pancakes! In addition, some communities will host races, celebrations, skipping, games and the ringing of the Pancake Bell to call everyone to come to church. Some communities celebrate by allowing children to take a half day off school.