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Ok, so what's the deal about pancakes and Shrove Tuesday? And what about Fat Tuesday?
Shrove Tuesday is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday which is the first day of Lent. It's a day of penitence, to clean the soul, and a day of celebration as the last chance to feast before Lent begins.
Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the ritual of shriving that Christians observed in the past. You already know about shriving because you have heard the expression, "short shrift." That means to not pay much attention to someone.
In shriving, a person confesses their sins and receives absolution for them. When a person receives absolution for their sins, they are forgiven for them and released from the guilt and pain that they have caused them. In the Catholic or Orthodox context, the absolution is pronounced by a priest. This tradition is very old. More than a 1000 years ago a monk wrote in the Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical Institutes:
"In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him."
Because many Christians give up meat, fish, fats, eggs, and milky foods for Lent, the best thing to do was to indulge on a meal of ingredients that wouldn't last the 40 days of Lent. Hence, pancakes became associated with Shrove Tuesday as they were a dish that could use up all the eggs, fats and milk in the house with just the addition of flour.
The need to eat up the fats also gave rise to the French name Mardi Gras; meaning fat Tuesday. Elsewhere, the day begins a period called Carnival, which means "farewell to meat."
Pass the syrup, please.