Skip to main content
Select Source:

Shrove Tuesday

SHROVE TUESDAY

SHROVE TUESDAY. The day immediately preceding Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Christian churches of the West, is known in English as Shrove Tuesday. It occurs between 2 February and 9 March, depending on the date of Easter. The day takes its name from "shriving"the pre-Lenten confession and absolution of the faithful as a preparation for Lent that was common in the European Middle Ages. Feasting on foods initially prohibited during Lent, such as meat, eggs, and milk products, was integral to Shrove Tuesday observance. The German term Fastnacht and the Dutch Vastenavond (eve of the fast) refer to the Lenten fast about to begin, while the French mardi gras, the Italian martedì grasso, and the Portuguese terça-feira gorda, all meaning "Fat Tuesday," refer to the feasting on foods rich in fat prior to the austerity of Lent. The Spanish term martes de carnaval (Carnival Tuesday) possibly reflects the formerly rigorous Lenten abstinence from meat commencing on Ash Wednesday and lasting through the forty days of Lent. The word "carnival" is thought to derive from Medieval Latin carnem levare, which means 'to take away or remove meat'.

The historical origin of carnival celebrations is obscure. The word "Lent" derived from Anglo-Saxon lencten, denoting the spring season. It may be, therefore, that carnival had its roots in an ancient spring festival or pagan agricultural rite marking the transition between winter and summer. Aspects of such ancient festivals are thought to be reflected in modern carnival celebrations connecting the change in nature with social and biological renewal. Thus, temporary social transformation, masking, processions, erotic dances, eating, and drinking still characterize carnival celebrations in much of Europe. The ludic elementthe public, communal revelryremains in the fore in carnival celebrations in the United States, especially in the New Orleans Mardi Gras, and in Brazil in the famous Rio de Janeiro Carnival.

In Britain this three-day period of ludic license was called Shrovetide. Various sports were common, especially games of football. One form of cruel sport prevalent at Shrovetide was pelting cocks and wagering, and this was still practiced in areas of English settlement in Ireland in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Shrovetide was also a period of dietary license, and foods forbidden in Lent were consumed in abundance. Eggs and milk were at one time forbidden in Lent and therefore any supplies had to be used up before Ash Wednesday. On Shrove Monday, in parts of England, meat and eggs were eaten, or gifts of pancakes, flour, eggs, or money to provide Shrove Tuesday fare were collected by children or adults, who often recited a "shroving" verse. Refusal to contribute could result in shard-or stone-throwing, or loud knocking with clubs on doors.

Shrove Tuesday was also known as "Pancake Day" in England. After the Reformation, the Shriving Bell, which had hitherto called parishioners to be shriven, signaled the commencement of revelry and pancake-making. In parts of Wales children formerly collected pancake ingredients, while in the Isle of Man, pancake-making has apparently replaced the older custom of serving oatmeal and gravy for midday dinner and meat and pancakes in the evening.

In Scotland, beef was eaten on Shrove Tuesday (also called "Fastern's E'en") to ensure household prosperity. Oatmeal bannocks enriched with eggs and milk were baked, and, together with the beef broth, were used in marriage divination by the inclusion of a ring to betoken marriage, or other items to indicate the rank or occupation of the future marriage partner. The identity of the beloved might be revealed in dreams induced by placing a bannock under the pillow.

In Ireland, Shrove Tuesday (i.e., pre-Lenten) weddings were formerly popular, a custom seemingly connected to the canonical prohibition on the solemn celebration of the sacrament of matrimony during Lent, and pranks might be played on those still unwed at that time. Shrove Tuesday was especially a household festival, when "nobody should be without meat" (Danaher, p. 42). Pancakesoften including a ring to signify early marriagewere eaten, and pancake-tossing as a form of marriage divination was still practiced in the nineteenth century in areas of strong English settlement in Ireland from late medieval times.

Relaxation of the austere Lenten regulations meant that it was unnecessary to use up supplies of milk, eggs, and butter on the eve of Lent. Yet pancakes retain their festive connection to Shrove Tuesday. Homemade or commercially produced pancakes remain popular on Shrove or "Pancake" Tuesday in Great Britain. The traditional pancake greaze at Westminster School in London still takes place on Shrove Tuesday: the cook tries to toss a pancake over the pancake bar, and the boy who succeeds in getting the most cake in the ensuing "greaze" or scrimmage is declared the winner.

In Ireland also, pancakes sprinkled with castor sugar and served with a slice of lemon are much enjoyed as a Shrove Tuesday treat and are also a treat, though increasingly with multicultural dimensions, in British and Irish communities in North America, Australia, and New Zealand.

In many parts of Europe, a variety of pastries rich in milk, butter, and eggs and cooked in hot fat are eaten during carnival celebrations. In Slovenian and Croatian Istria, for example, they are termed fritoli and kroötule, while in Sardinia, these doughnut-like pastries are called zeppole. They are similar in texture to the small rectangular pastry called Funkenküchle, popular during carnival festivities in western Austria, parts of South Tyrol, several areas in Switzerland, and certain regions of southern and western Germany. This latter pastry is made of flour, salt, sugar, and cream, cooked in hot fat, and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. It is eaten around a large fire lit on the first Sunday of Lent (alte Fastnacht, old eve of fast) since the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Fastnachtkuchen are still popular among the Pennsylvania Dutch. These were originally rectangular or diamond-shaped, but today many are made round like doughnuts.

See also Fasting and Abstinence: Christianity ; Feasts, Festivals, and Fasts ; Holidays ; Religion and Food .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Atzori, Mario, Luisa Orrú, Paolo Piquereddu, and M. Margherita Satta, eds. Il Carnevale in Sardegna. Cagliari, Sardinia: 2d Editrice Mediterranea, 1989.

Bahktin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Translated by Helene Iswolsky. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1968.

Banks, M. Macleod. "Shrove Tuesday." In British Calendar Customs. Scotland, vol. 1, pp. 229. London: William Glaisher for The Folklore Society, 1937.

Beitl, Richard. Wörterbuch der Deutschen Volkskunde. Zweite Auflage. Stuttgart: Alfred Kroner Verlag, 1955.

Biluš, Ivanka, Brkan, B., Ćorić, Rodè, C. Croatia at Table: The Aromas and Tastes of Croatian Cuisine. Zagreb: Alfa, 1977.

Cox, Harvey. The Feast of Fools: A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fantasy. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

Danaher, Kevin. The Year in Ireland. Cork, Ireland: The Mercier Press, 1977.

Drewes, Maria. Tiroler Küche. Innsbruck-Wien: Tyrolia-Verlag, 2000.

Eco, Umberto, V. V. Ivanov, and Monica Rector. Carnival! Edited by Thomas A. Sebeok with Marcia E. Erickson. Berlin, New York, and Amsterdam: Mouton, 1984.

Gaignebet, Claude. Le carnaval. Paris: Payot, 1974.

Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. Deutsches Wörterbuch. Dritter Band. Leipzig: Verlag von S. Hirzel, 1862, pp. 13541355.

Jones, T. Gwynn. Welsh Folklore and Folk Custom. London: Methuen, 1930.

Kinser, Samuel. "Carnival." In Medieval Folklore. An Encyclopedia of Myths, Legends, Tales, Beliefs and Customs, edited by Carl Lindahl, John McNamara, John Lidnow, vol. 1, pp. 134139. Santa Barbara, Ca.: ABC-Clio, 2000.

LaFlaur, Mark. "Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday)." In Festivals and Holidays, pp. 210217. New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1999.

Livingstone, E. A., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

McNeill, F. Marian. "Fastern's E'en." In The Silver Bough: A Calendar of Scottish National Festivals, vol. 2, pp. 3945. Glasgow: William MacLellan, 1959.

Pucer, Tina Novak. "Food Culture in Istria." In Food and Celebration: From Fasting to Feasting, edited by Patricia Lysaght, pp. 4552. Ljubljana: Založba, 2002.

Shoemaker, Alfred L. Eastertide in Pennsylvania: A Folk-Cultural Study. Foreword by Don Yoder. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2000.

Wright, A. R. "Movable Festivals." In British Calendar Customs. England, edited by T. E. Lones, vol. 1, pp. 131. London: William Glaisher for the Folklore Society, 1936.

Patricia Lysaght


Carnival

As a point of closure for Christmas and Twelfth Night abundance, and a ritual sending off of the old year, Carnival evolved into a late-winter feast day of special importance to the Roman Catholic world.

The underlying theme to Mardi Gras or Carnival is that the days immediately preceding Lent were traditionally set aside for conspicuous feasting. In a medieval context, conspicuous consumption was a show of wealth, since it signaled that the lean days of winter to come were not an inconvenience imposed by financial or by religious considerations.

Since animal flesh was forbidden during the strict fast days of Lent, Shrovetide also became a period when weddings were once popular. This interesting fact is substantiated by medieval wedding records and makes economic sense, if we consider that June (a popular wedding month today) fell in the middle of harvest or planting according to the old calendar. This calendrical sensitivity placed the birth of the child in November, when there was nothing left to do in the fields. Thus Carnival also had an important influence on very basic human lifecycles far and beyond the actual month of celebration. It was also a time of general revelry in village and city alike, with processions of elaborately costumed and masked figures, dancers, and noise makers. It was in essence, a "feast of fools," a time when the usual rules of everyday behavior could be relaxed, even to the extent that such tabooed behavior as cross-dressing could make its appearance in parades with general approval.

European scholarship has meticulously analyzed the masking and de-masking of participants in the traditional Mardi Gras Carnival. On the one side there is a definite affinity to masks representing demons and animals, totemism disguising the living from the spirits of the dead, who were thought to be abroad on this eve of Lenten austerities. On the other hand, the serving of nourishing, satisfying fat foods at Shrovetide expresses the basic idea in European folk culture that one should, in Harvey Cox's words in The Feast of Fools, indulge in conscious excess. In some European regions it was customary to eat seven or even nine different kinds of food on Shrove Tuesday. These included butter and milk, roast pork, fish, peas, and millet. Feasting was sometimes interrupted by "wise" individuals, as evidence of aiding fertility. Fish were folkloric prognosticators of wealth to comeso many scales or eggs, so much the profit. The same benefit was claimed for milletthe more tiny millet grains eaten on Shrove Tuesday, the more coins one could hope for in the future.

The pre-Lenten feasting was thought to betoken an abundant harvest in the coming summer. Because Shrovetide cakes were products of a church festival, they acquired virtues beyond the nutritional. Crumbs were fed to the chicken on Shrove Tuesday so that they would produce more eggs and be protected from predators. Leftovers were also scattered for the angels, foxes, hawks, and martens, undoubtedly with mixed messages to the recipients to ward off danger. Even the Shrovetide lard was used in folk medicine as a wound salve, and ploughshares and wagons were symbolically greased with it before they were first used in the spring farm work.

However, one of the greatest legacies of Shrove Tuesday is the urban carnival which took place in large cities like Rome, Paris, Cologne, Munich, and Basel. They assumed the form of huge processions, with rites of crowning a prince and princess (or king and queen). Similar feast day parades are found throughout the Americas, but especially in Mexico and South America. The most famous of these is the great Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, an event for which the city prepares throughout the entire year. Much older Carnival traditions can be found in the mountain villages of the Black Forest and in the Austrian Tyrol, where carvers of wooden masks are still working a traditional art form that predates Christianity.

At the time of the Reformation, Protestant countries for the most part gave up traditional Carnival rites connected with the official ecclesiastical celebration. Mumming and masking were in particular dropped, or shifted to Christmas, New Year's Day, and Twelfth Night (Epiphany). This residual mumming was once popular in colonial North America, and survives today as the New Year's Day Mummers Parade in Philadelphia.

Don Yoder


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Shrove Tuesday." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Shrove Tuesday." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/food/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shrove-tuesday

"Shrove Tuesday." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/food/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shrove-tuesday

Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday the day before Ash Wednesday, on which people would be shriven (confessed and absolved) in preparation for Lent. Though named for its former religious significance, it is chiefly marked by feasting and celebration, which traditionally preceded the observance of the Lenten fast. Shrovetide means Shrove Tuesday and the two days preceding it, when it was formerly customary to attend confession.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Shrove Tuesday." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Shrove Tuesday." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/shrove-tuesday

"Shrove Tuesday." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/shrove-tuesday

Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tues·day / shrōv/ • n. the day before Ash Wednesday. Though named for its former religious significance, it is chiefly marked by feasting and celebration, which traditionally preceded the observance of the Lenten fast.Compare with Mardi Gras.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Shrove Tuesday." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Shrove Tuesday." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/shrove-tuesday-0

"Shrove Tuesday." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/shrove-tuesday-0

Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday, day before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent). In the Latin countries it is the last day of the carnival, called by the French Mardi Gras.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Shrove Tuesday." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Shrove Tuesday." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shrove-tuesday

"Shrove Tuesday." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shrove-tuesday

Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday. The day before Ash Wednesday, so named from the ‘shriving’, i.e. confession and absolution, of the Christian faithful on that day.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Shrove Tuesday." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Shrove Tuesday." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/shrove-tuesday

"Shrove Tuesday." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/shrove-tuesday

Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday Day before Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent. See also Mardi gras

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Shrove Tuesday." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Shrove Tuesday." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shrove-tuesday

"Shrove Tuesday." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shrove-tuesday