Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the Christian observance of Lent, a 40-day period of abstinence that precedes Easter.
As such, Ash Wednesday is the last day on which those who observe Lent can enjoy richer foods before abstaining for them, should they choose to.
Throughout the centuries it’s become tradition for people to eat pancakes to mark the beginning of Lent so as to use up ingredients that they wouldn’t be allowed to eat during the 40-day period, which is how Pancake Day obtained its name.
As Pancake Day always takes place 47 days before Easter Sunday, its actual date on the Gregorian calendar can vary.
This year, the annual food-filled event is taking place on Tuesday 5 March, although it’s taken place in February for the past five years.
According to Historic UK, the term Shrove Tuesday derives from the act of Anglo-Saxon Christians confessing their sins before Lent, and thus being “shriven” of them.
In some countries, including France, Germany and the United States, the day before the start of Lent is recognised with a celebration called Mardi Gras.
Translated as meaning “Fat Tuesday” in French, the festivities often involve Carnival activities such as extravagant parades.
While pancake eating on Shrove Tuesday has been a custom for the past few centuries, the act of marking the beginning of Lent prior to Ash Wednesday has been around for far longer.
According to the Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical Institutes, a text reportedly translated by writer Abbot Aelfric around 1000AD, in the week preceding Lent it was custom for Christians to confess their sins so that “the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance].”
Centuries later, around the time of the 16th-century Western Christian Reformation movement, “Shrovetide”, the period of celebration before the fast of Lent, would last around a week.
Like many other European holidays, the pancake day was originally a pagan holiday.
Before the Christian era, the Slavs believed that the change of seasons was a struggle between Jarilo, the god of vegetation, fertility and springtime, and the evil spirits of cold and darkness.
People believed that they had to help Jarilo fight against winter and bring in the spring.
The most important part of Shrovetide week (the whole celebration of the arrival of spring lasted one week) was making and eating pancakes.
The hot, round pancakes symbolized the sun.
The Slavs believed that by eating pancakes, they got the power, light and warmth of the sun.
The first pancake was usually put on a window for the spirits of the ancestors.
On the last day of Shrovetide week some pancakes and other food were burnt in a bonfire as a sacrifice to the pagan gods
painter and photographer - started barganews.com, the first on line news site in Tuscany, Italy back in 1996