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Why do we eat pancakes on Pancake Day?

Shrove Tuesday is a Christian celebration that falls on the eve of Lent

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For such a simple dish, pancakes have inspired a bewildering array of variation when it comes to recipes, methods and fillings.

From paper-thin French crepes eaten sweet or savoury to Indian dosas, stout Scotch pancakes spread with butter and jam and the fluffy buttermilk variety that Americans enjoy with bacon, maple syrup and whipped cream, there’s a pancake for any time of the day.

Why do we eat pancakes on Pancake Day?

Pancake Day – more traditionally known as Shrove Tuesday – is a Christian celebration that falls on the eve of Lent, a 40-day period of penance through fasting.

Shrove Tuesday’s name comes from the old middle-English verb "to shrive", which means to confess one’s sins. During the Middle Ages, Christians would go to church before midday on Shrove Tuesday and ask God for absolution before the start of Lent. The day also gave them the opportunity to feast on all the indulgent foods that were going to be prohibited over the next 40 days.

During Lent, Christians were historically encouraged to eat only one meal per day and abstain altogether from some foods, most commonly meat. In the Middle Ages, all animal products were forbidden so as this outlawed butter and eggs, pancakes were a simple way to use up any remaining supplies.

Although the tradition of fasting has fallen out of fashion among all but a handful of Brits, the custom of feasting on pancakes, often with sweet fillings, remains alive and well.

Perfect pancake tips

Don't restrict yourself to the trust old standby of lemon and sugar when it comes to toppings, said the Daily Mirror. The newspaper suggests combos such as peanut butter and banana or ice cream and peaches to liven up your Pancake Day delicacies.

Meanwhile, ITV News goes down a more practical route, with a list of tips from the Fire and Rescue service, which warns that more than half of domestic fires start in the kitchen.

So what should you do if your pan catches fire? Don’t try to move it and don't throw water on it. Turn the hob off, if it is safe to do so, put a lid on the pan if you can and if the fire is getting out of control, get out of the house and call 999.

British Pancake Day traditions

The pancake race

While most people are content to eat pancakes, some also use them for sport. Pancake races, which sees runners race down streets flipping a pancake in a frying pan, are held in towns and villages throughout the UK. The tradition is said to have originated in Olney, Berkshire, where the earliest recorded race was in 1445.

Shrovetide football

Also known as mob football, this is not for the faint-hearted. The game is thought to have emerged in the Middle Ages and is still played on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. It involves an unlimited number of players on each team trying to move a large ball towards the goal by any means possible. The Ashbourne game is played over two days, starting each day at 2pm and finishing at 10pm.

Pancake Day around the world

Mardi Gras

From Italy to Brazil, Mardi Gras and Carnival have become synonymous with masks, costumes, dancing and huge parades. The French name Mardi Gras translates into English as Fat Tuesday, which once again refers to the consumption of fatty foods before the start of Lent. Mardi Gras is celebrated in several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, France, Italy and Sweden, but the biggest celebrations now take place in the Americas.

The USA

Mardi Gras celebrations are believed to have begun in the US in 1699, after two French explorers landed in today's Louisiana. The explorers held a small celebration and dubbed the landing spot Point du Mardi Gras. New Orleans now plays host to the largest celebrations, attracting millions of people every year. A number of other cities in the US, especially those with French or Spanish heritage, also celebrate the holiday.

Brazil

The Brazilian Carnival, by far the biggest holiday in the country, runs for five days in the run-up to Shrove Tuesday. Rio de Janeiro’s event attracts almost five million people, while as a whole, Carnival attracts 70 per cent of the country’s annual visitors. Nevertheless, this festival also derives from a tradition of abstention: the word carnival comes from the Latin "carnelevamen", which means "to remove meat".

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