Pancake Day Around the World

With pancake day coming up on the 25th of February, we thought it would be the perfect time to share our knowledge on how Shrove Tuesday is celebrated around the world so that those of you that are travelling can join in with the celebrations!

But first, where does the tradition come from in the first place? We eat pancakes all of the time, but why specifically on this day every year?

Shrove Tuesday is one of the many feast days found in the Catholic calendar. In mainland Europe, many of these feast days are taken as public holidays, but here in the UK, where we have far less public holidays than most countries in the rest of Europe, the roots behind traditional days such as this have slipped further into obscurity.

The name is derived from the word shrive, meaning to absolve. In Anglo-Saxon times, people were ‘shriven’ of their sins before beginning the fasting period of Lent. During Lent, eggs and fats were given up until Easter, and the perfect way to use them up was to make pancakes!

It’s hard to imagine people going over a month without eating eggs and fat these days, but the tradition of making pancakes has lived on. In many villages and small towns, ‘pancake races’ are held, in which participants flip pancakes whilst running a short race. Many households across the country make pancakes and traditionally enjoy them with lemon or orange juice, sugar or golden syrup.

Across Europe, Shrove Tuesday is celebrated in a variety of ways. In Italy Martedì Grasso is celebrated, not with pancakes, but by making Chiacchiere or ‘Angel Wings’ which are fried strips of twisted dough made with a splash of rum and dusted in icing sugar.

Italian Frappe or chiacchiere – typical Italian carnival fritters dusted with powdered sugar

These are traditionally eaten at city-wide carnivals, the most famous of which can be found in Venice, Viareggio and Ireva. Ireva also hosts ‘The Battle of the Oranges’ at the carnival, which is a mass food fight, in which oranges are pelted at each other! Sounds fun, but we’ll stick to using oranges to flavour our pancakes!

Another common name for Shrove Tuesday is Mardi Gras (fat Tuesday), which is celebrated in France and other French-speaking countries as well as New Orleans in the USA. However, the French don’t wait until then to eat their pancakes! Instead, La Chandeleur is celebrated on 2nd February where tradition dictates that Crepes must be made with a coin on top during cooking, or held in the right hand whist the crepe is flipped with the left to bring prosperity for the year to come. Crepes must also be eaten in the evening, and often the first one of the batch is hidden in a drawer rather than eaten (again, to supposedly bring luck for the year ahead).

A lot of the superstition comes from the fact that La Chandeleur is a very old celebration that pre-dates Christianity, marking the midpoint of Winter. Most people today just tend to eat a lot of crepes all day, and that sounds good to us!

In Denmark and Norway, the day is called Fastelavn and is centred around the making and eating of Fastelavnsboller, a delicious type of iced bun filled with cream! Children also dress up in costumes and go from door to door gathering the tasty treats, much like trick-or-treating on Halloween in the UK. Carnivals and parades are also part of the celebration here too. Our little Pancake Day celebration is starting to look quite subdued compared to the rest of Europe!

Traditional Fastelavnsboller

Finally, in Potugal, or more specifically, on the island of Madeira, Malasada Day is celebrated. Malasadas are small fried, yeasted doughnuts fried in lard. Much like in the other countries mentioned, these are eaten at carnivals. This celebration dates back to the 16th century when Portugal colonised Hawaii and set up sugar plantations. As a result, Malasada Day is celebrated on the Hawaiian Islands and there are numerous bakeries in the state selling Malasadas all year long!

Fried a yeast doughnut of Portuguese origins called Malasada is a very famous food in Hawaii. It is popular for tourists also.

As you can see, pancake day is celebrated in a variety of ways around the world, each with unique and delicious outcomes. We hope that whatever you do this Pancake Day, that you have a great time, and maybe try something new this year!

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