Handy Histories - Shrove Tuesday

Handy Histories

  1. #handy histories
  2. #pancakeday
  3. #history
  4. #shrovetuesday

Sprinkled with sugar, doused in honey, smothered in chocolate spread or garnished with fresh fruit; we all love a good pancake!

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They light, delicious and naughty all at the same time. But why do we put a day aside every year to cook them, eat them, toss them and argue over who gets the last one? Why do celebrate Pancake Day – well your wonderful Handy Histories Team is here to help you unravel the mystery of the pancake… And I promise you, it’s not a load of crêpe.


Like most western holidays and observances, Shrove Tuesday dates back to Pagan times. The Slav people, mainly peoples from Russia, Poland, Ukraine, believed that the changing of the seasons was due to a struggle between a god called Jarilo and evil daemons of darkness.

The people of the Slav region needed sunlight and warmth to help them grow crops for the cold times and believed that Jarilo the God needed their help. The first instance of Pancakes being associated with this time of year was the serving of hot, circular cakes that would represent the warmth of the sun, and the suns shape. By making these special treats, the Slav people believed they were helping Jarilo fight off the darkness, and bring springtime to their world sooner.

When Christianity started to grow in Europe, the eating of pancakes became associated with something called a Shrive. This shrive was the way of absolution, a way of removing their sin before celebrating Lent, which represented the run up to the death of Jesus, in Christian belief. So, the practice came in that, before this highly solemn part of the Religious year, people would remove all things considered a luxury or rich (eggs, milk and sugar) before observing this time of religious thought at Lent. This is also why people choose to give up things for lent such as chocolate, sugar or fatty foods.

In other cultures, Shrove Tuesday represents the end of a celebration before a time of abstinence and quiet reflection. In the Netherlands, the Carnival is a time of celebration and indulgence, but when the Shrove comes around; people switch roles and go from indulgence and fun, to abstinence and quiet reflection.

From pre-Christian Pagan beliefs, through a remembrance of Jesus’ teachings; pancakes have always been associated with this time of year. There are usually pancake races in many English towns. This is a custom that is said to go back to 1445 when, a woman on Shrove Tuesday, was so busy making pancakes, she forgot about going to Church. When she heard the bells calling the village to prayer, she ran out of the house, frying pan and pancake in hand, and as she ran she tossed the pancake to make sure it didn’t burn. This is believed to be where the tradition of pancake races in England came from. Today, many towns have these races, usually made up of women wearing aprons, but if a man decides to join in, he usually has to dress up as a woman!

Pancake Race

So, when you’re tucking into your pancakes this Shrove Tuesday; remember you are either helping the God Jarilo fight off the evil spirits of darkness, or you are indulging yourself before Lent – either way, they’re scrummy!

Click on the link below for a quick and healthy way to make pancakes. We, here at Handy Histories, think that they’re best with lots of lemon and sugar!



Crêpe: A French pancake

Pagan: Pre-Christian and pre-classical Religions

Jarilo: Slavic God of springtime

Jesus: Jewish thinker whose teachings make up the basis of several religions. Believed by some to be the Son of God

Solemn: quiet, understated, serious. A person can be solemn but so can an occasion, like a funeral.

Abstinence: To deny yourself something, or to choose not to do something. You can abstain from eating chocolate, or abstain to decide upon something.

Indulgence: to overdo it

As always, Handy Histories are available to answer your questions – History Homework, general questions or ask us to do a specific post just for you. Email us at [email protected] and we will help you out! HHx

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