Although I grew up in Louisiana for many years (Lee High Class of ’88 Rules), Mardi Gras is always a time that perplexes me a bit. You see, being British, one’s mother enforces the traditions of Old Blighty in the homestead, and for us, we celebrated Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day. That being said, I thought I’d share a bit about the tradition we Brits still hold dear.
Shrove Tuesday is our version of Mardi Gras, and it stems from the word shrive, meaning confess. Essentially, Shrove Tuesday was the day set aside to confess all of our sins and wrongdoings. We would confess and all would be right with the world. Shrovetide, a season over overindulgence, would end on this day.
In England, as well as a few other parts of Europe, Shrove Tuesday is still a special day in the hearts and minds of its citizens. The day took on the more modern title of Pancake Day. We would gather at the dinner table and eat pancakes together. My mum would make them as fancy as she could, with fruit toppings, icings, syrups, whipped creams, you name it. My brother and I looked forward to Pancake Day for months on end.
The idea of the pancake came from the decision to use all the rich foods held in the family fridge. Milk, cream, sugar, and eggs, would all be mixed together as a final treat before the Lenten season began. Dairy was a no-no in the British realm of Lenten treats.
Perhaps my favorite memory of Pancake Day is the football matches. Sorry….for all my American friends and readers out there, which, let’s face it is the majority of you, I’m talking about soccer. Football matches are as synonymous with Shrove Tuesday as pancakes. Families and friends gather in parks for large-scale matches. It would be sort of like American friends and family deciding to play football on either Thanksgiving or Christmas Day.
Oh, then there are the pancake races. I looked these up on Wikipedia once, and was pleased to find that they pretty much got the origin correct. Just a few things are missing, so here goes….Each Shrove Tuesday, races are held throughout the United Kingdom. Schoolchildren, mums, dads, grans and grandfathers dress in aprons (or pinny’s as we like to call them) and run with pancakes in a frying pan.
Now, I’m aware of how silly this sounds, but trust me, it’s a riot! Seeing towns and villages set up obstacle courses for these pancake races is truly a sight to see. I’ve seen kids as young as four steadily holding their frying pans out in front of them, lips furled and sheer determination etched across their tiny faces.
The concept stems from an old tale about a woman who was busy in the kitchen, making pancakes for her family. Suddenly, she heard the church bells toll, and had to make a dash to mass. Well, she couldn’t very well leave her pancake to burn on the stove top, now could she? So, the wife and mother, with no other way of remedying the situation, ran as quickly as she could to mass, pancake and frying pan joining her for the journey.
We British have a multitude of traditions stemming hundreds upon hundreds of years. Shrove Tuesday is but one of them, and as we go forward in our Creole journey together, I hope you will indulge me by letting you in on bits and pieces of my homeland, if only every so often.
There is so much about being British that makes me smile. We’re quirky. We celebrate silly things. We have the ability to laugh at ourselves. Today, it’s hard not to feel very British and very proud. To all of you, I say Happy Mardi Gras, but in my heart, I really want my gran to make me pancakes!