Shrove Tuesday

Happy Shrove Tuesday! In the calendar of holidays, it isn’t one of the really big days. My digital calendar doesn’t include it in the list of holidays highlighted. Then again, not many people know that yesterday was Shrove Monday. Shrove Tuesday has a few other names, some of which may be more familiar. The French call it Mardi Gras, meaning fat Tuesday. It is also known as pancake day in many parts of the world. The name shrove comes from old middle English. It is the past tense of the ancient word shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins. In church traditions, gaining absolution is a multi-step process that begins with confession. Confession can be done privately or as a part of a group. The sacrament of confession was one fo the areas of church life addressed by the Protestant reformation. Without going into detail, it is important that in most Protestant churches the process continues but is no longer considered to be a sacrament. Many Protestant churches also favor group confession over private confession. There is a long history to these differences, but both Protestants and Roman Catholics observe. at least nominally, a day of preparation for the season of Lent.

The celebration of Mardi Gras has been lengthened into a season in some places. In New Orleans, the first Mardi Gras parade this year was on January 5 and there have been multiple parades every week leading up to today’s big festivities.

The tradition of eating pancakes comes from the belief that Lent must be a period of fasting in preparation for Easter. The six weeks of living a very austere life provides an opportunity for reflection on what is most important. The season of Lent is often accompanied by cleaning out one’s home and making other preparations as well. Since Lent is a long period of fasting, it was believed that it was best to remove all edible temptations from one’s home. This was undertaken in a systematic fashion. Monday was the day to rid the house of excess meat, especially fatty meats such as bacon. Another day for yesterday is “Collop Monday.” A collop is a thin slice of meat. Tuesday is the day to consume the remaining eggs, butter and stocks of fat. Making pancakes or fritters is a good way to use up these items.

In some places a tradition of children going “Shroving” or “Lent-crooking” on the night before Shrove Tuesday was common. The children would knock on their neighbor’s doors singing,

We be come a-shroving,
For a piece of pancake,
Or a bite of bacon,
Or a little truckle of cheese
Of your own making.

Once, twice, thrice
I give thee warning
Please to make some pancakes
‘Gin tomorrow morning.

The tradition, in some places, included carrying shards of broken crockery or small stones to throw at householders who refused to give them anything.

We haven’t noticed any children out shoving in our neighborhood. The tradition doesn’t seem to be deeply ingrained in this place.

Lent has always had a bit of confusion associated with it and many differing traditions. The season of Lent is one of the most ancient seasons observed by the Christian Church. It was well established before the Church began to observe Advent and Christmas. The timing of Lent, however, has always been a complex calculation, based on the lunar calendar. Prior to the Council of Nicea, held in 325 AD, the celebration of Easter varied widely. The council created a formula to calculate Easter. It would be the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon, which follows the vernal equinox, but always after the Jewish Passover. They then established that the vernal equinox would always fall on March 21. Before the 7th century, the Roman method of calculating Easter was different from the Celtic tradition and resulted in differing dates. After the Great Schism, in 1054 the Roman Church no longer felt that Easter had to fall after passover, resulting in the eastern and western churches nearly always celebrating Easter on a different Sunday. Passover is observed on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, which is the first month of the year in the Jewish calendar. Passover is celebrated for 8 days and is made up of several ceremonial traditions. Added to the difference of whether or not to wait until after Passover, the Roman church switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1582. The Orthodox Church continued to use the Julian calendar for determining the date of Easter. This difference results in different weeks for the celebration of Ash Wednesday and Shrove Tuesday. On rare occasions the two traditions end up aligning. The next time that this will occur is 2034.

To complicate matters even more, contemporary churches often compress some of the observances of the season. In our congregation, we no longer have distinct Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday celebrations, compressing the two events into a pancake supper followed by a worship service with the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday.

So Shrove Tuesday isn’t one of the big days in the calendar of most folks. In our town businesses and schools will be operating as usual. There will be a few pancake suppers around town and that is about the extent of it. There is no need to save your broken pottery shards for your children to throw at the neighbors if they refuse their begging for food. Your children probably prefer to beg for food in your own kitchen in the first place. Pancakes, however remain a treat for children. Our grandchildren almost always ask for pancakes for breakfast when they have a sleepover at Grandma and Grandpa’s. Since I’m prone to prepare what they ask for, we did have macaroni and cheese for breakfast once, but cheese is another food the is traditionally purged from the house in preparation for Lent, so mac ’n’ cheese might be a good Shrove Tuesday menu item.

However you celebrate, enjoy the day. Tomorrow we begin a new season together.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!