Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day

It doesn’t get much weirder than this.  While New Orleans celebrates extreme decadence the day before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, the folks of Olney, England and Liberal*, Kansas have a different way and a healthier way of preparing for Lent –  a pancake race.  Yes, a pancake race.

And no, it is not like the Gingerbread man who jumped out of the pan and ran away.  This is no fairy tale.  It all started in 1445 AD in Olney, England. Here is the explanation from the website of International Pancake Day 

A woman engrossed in using up cooking fats (forbidden during Lent) was making pancakes. Hearing the church bells ring calling everyone to the shriving service**, she grabbed her head scarf (required in church) and ran to the church, skillet and pancake in hand and still apron-clad. In following years, neighbors got into the act and it became a race to see who could reach the church first and collect a “Kiss of Peace” from the verger (bell-ringer.) 

How did it get started in Kansas?  The southwest corner town of Liberal, Kansas is probably more than a little bored after a long winter.  In 1950, more than 500 years after the tradition started in England, the president of the Liberal Jaycees contacted the vicar of the St. Peter and St. Paul church in Olney and challenged the Olney women to a race with the Liberal women.  Here are the rules.  The contestants, traditionally women, carry a frying pan and race to cover a 415 yard course to the finishing line. The rules are strict: contestants have to toss their pancake at both the start and the finish, as well as wear an apron and a scarf. (Wikipedia)

So every year since 1950, the pancake competition is on, the Kansas ladies currently leading 36 to 27. No winner was declared in 1980 when a BBC media truck blocked the finish line.

Amazing, isn’t it, that  a day set aside for repentance and preparation for Lent, becomes the reason for another party; and the main reason for the day gets lost.  To be fair, Liberal, Kansas does have a “shriving service” in the midst of a four day International Pancake Day celebration.

But it’s not just the Mardi Gras revellers and the Pancake Day celebrants who have lost focus on the day. Where does repentance for sin fit in our lives?  Where does confession of sin happen in our experience?

Consider Psalm 32.

Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.
 I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Ultimately, this forgiveness of sin and removal of guilt is possible only through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, where Jesus suffered and died in our place, taking our punishment. However, after we have believed in Christ, we are still called to confession of sin. Two New Testament passages that call us to confession of sin are for believers, not the initial repentance that is required for salvation, but the ongoing confession that is necessary for spiritual health.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that
you may be healed. 
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
James 5:16

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive
us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9

What does this tell us?  Don’t wait until Shrove Tuesday to confess your sins.  Keep short accounts with God and with one another every day.

* Liberal is the name of the town, not an adjective describing my home state
** The verb shrive (shrove, shriven) comes from the Old English verb scrfan, “to decree, decree after judgment, impose a penance upon (the penitent), hear the confession of,” according to the American Heritage Dictionary. Shrove Tuesday is the day to reflect, to seek penance and get ready for Lent, and so we have the shriving service, the religious component of the holiday. (International Pancake Day website – above)

2 thoughts on “Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day

  1. Great Story. I’m still confused about how a day of revelry, like Mardi Gras, gets one into a spirit of repentance and sacrifice. Can you explain that to me, someone?


    1. Glenn, I doubt that Mardi Gras participants have any intention of getting ready for any real repentance, just using the tradition as an excuse for going wild. But I suppose there can be a hint of Romans 5:20-6:2, particularly, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Paul’s response reveals the bizzare idea of a Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday-Lent continuum.


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