How Shrove Tuesday is Celebrated Around the World
Around this time of year, little yellow plastic "Jif Lemons" start to appear at the end of shopping aisles, reminding us that Pancake Day is around the corner. A popular celebration, much of the seriousness of Shrove Tuesday is forgotten as parents up and down the country try to impress their children or spouses by flipping pancakes out of the frying pan, to turn in mid air before landing perfectly back into the frying pan. Many end up on the floor, and this seems to be one of the favourite celebrations of dogs all over the country, who dash to the rescue to gobble up any ruined pancakes.
Any pancakes that don't fall victim to a mixture of gravity and poor coordination are served in a heap with lemon juice and a sprinkle of sugar. In recent years, more exotic toppings have made an appearance, such as maple syrup, fruit and whipped cream, or even chocolate nut spread.
Of course, Pancake Day is known as Shrove Tuesday in the Christian calendar. It is the last day before Lent, when Christians in the UK give something up for Lent, abstaining from a favourite treat until Easter Sunday.
But how is this celebrated in other countries around the world? Let's find out, as we explore the traditions of a handful of the world's countries in this article. You'll be surprised just how much in common they have with each other, and how different they can be!
Belgium - Mardi Gras
Belgium sees great carnivals take place throughout the country, with "Mardi Gras" meaning "Fat Tuesday" being the last day of partying before the sober days of Lent begin. The carnivals take place for days, rather than specifically being one day alone, and each town has its own special variation.
Eupen's carnival is known as "Crazy Days", and sees madness take to the streets. The Thursday before Lent sees the festival begin with a parade of old ladies. There is an unusual rule for this parade; they may cut off a tie and claim it as a trophy if they see one. In the 19th Century, it was forbidden for women to take part in carnival events and festivities, so this parade began as a reaction to this silly rule. Robbing ties from officials showed the local authorities exactly what they thought of their ban! Sunday is reserved for children and has a parade for the children of the town. The main precession takes place on Monday, which like some parts of Germany, names this day "Rosenmontag" or Rose Monday. It is a tradition to throw rose petals or paper roses along the parade route. It is at this parade that the Carnival Prince appears, who greets revellers with a greeting of "Alaaf!". He closes the festival when he returns the town hall's keys, and all is quiet on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. I would imagine that they are too busy sweeping up paper petals to cook many pancakes.
Binche holds a spectacular festival, that has not lost much of its medieval charm, and is believed to be Belgium's oldest carnival. Dating from at least the 16th Century, the walled town's carnival also appears on Unesco's list. The pinnacle of the parade is the display of marching "Gilles", who are a secretive brotherhood. Around 900 of these masked men make their way through the town, dressed in their distinctive costumes. The march of the Gilles takes place on Tuesday before the start of Lent.
"The Gilles are the carnival kings who tradition dictates must be male and Binche-born. Early before dawn, it’s the role of the women in their family to ritually and proudly dress them in the linen shirts and trousers, stuffed back and front with straw and adorned with about 200 motifs in the Belgian colours – typically, these are crowned lions and stars. The red and yellow belt is emblazoned with bells, wooden clogs adorn their feet and they are armed with a sheath of twigs, a symbol of the Gilles’ agricultural roots.
Finally, the drummer rounds up the Gilles from their homes. Strict rules apply and flouting them can bring a lifetime ban from the brotherhood: they must always be accompanied by a drummer and cannot step outside the city walls, travel in a car, kiss their wives, smoke or use a mobile phone. Another convention is the quaffing of champagne from daybreak, usually accompanied by oysters, until the end of the festivities.
For the first few hours, they wear eerie wax masks adorned with signature green spectacles and curling ginger whiskers. The masks, artisan-made and patented, symbolise equality and anonymity. They are cast aside later in the day to be replaced by the ornate and towering ostrich-feather headdresses. And then battle commences as the orange-hurling ensues and the merrymaking persists late into the night, beyond the dazzling explosion of fireworks, forever to the rhythm of the beating drum." 
The carnival in Malmedy is a much more frightening affair. In the local Walloon dialect, the four-day festival is known as "Le Cwarmê" and are believed to originate from the 15th Century or earlier. Parades take place through the town until Shrove Tuesday and include the "Grosse Police" (Fat Police), and a character called Haguète. This person wields a pair of long wooden pincers called "hape-tchâr" meaning "flesh-snatcher" which he uses to reach out and grab bystanders. These terrified revellers are forced to their knees with the pincers until they say sorry, repenting for their sins. There is one great carnival parade on Shrove Tuesday, before the festival comes to a close with a pyre in the evening, upon which an effigy of Haguète is burned.
Croatia - Karneval
Also known as "Poklade", Croatia sees the tradition of a carnival period before Lent taking place. The festivities end on the Sunday before Lent, and includes the burning of an effigy that is known as a "Jure Piškanac". This effigy is called Mesopust and is blamed for all the strife of the previous year, and so it is not uncommon for him to take the form of an unpopular contemporary figure!
Costumes are very important to these carnivals, and a famous feature are the bell-ringers, known as Zvončari. These wear large head regalia such as animal masks, and bells, and their costumes are based on the area of origin that they come from within Croatia.
The traditional Carnival food is a type of cake called a fritule, which is a small type of doughnut flavoured with brandy, lemon zest, and filled with raisins.
Pete from Croatia explains:
"In Croatia, the town of Rijeka holds the biggest festival in county, although every town or village has its own small scale events in this time of the year. My father-in-law is a Zvončar!"
The burning of Mesopust in Croatia.
England - Shrove Tuesday
The English term "shrovetide" is derived from "to shrive", meaning to seek absolutions form one's sins. In days of old, efforts were made to purify one's soul by confessing sins, and making amends before Lent began.
In the Anglo-Saxon "Ecclesiastical Institutes" by Abbot Aelfric, dated from around 1000 AD, the following description appears:
"In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do (in the way of penance)." 
It has become a custom in England to eat pancakes on this day, and it is widely thought that this practice occurs to eat up all of the rich foods before the fasting of Lent begins the following day.
In some parts of the country, pancake races are held, where children and adults compete in races to run from one end of their town's High Street to the other whilst tossing a pancake in a frying pan. If they drop the pancake, they must pick it up before they can continue. This strange tradition is said to have originated in 1445 in Buckinghamshire, when a housewife forgot the time whilst making pancakes. The church bells started to ring to call the faithful to the service, and she ran out of the house with her frying pan, still tossing the pancake to stop from ruining it.
A less common event in England is the game of mob football. An ancient form of football, the men of a town compete to win a leather ball. In modern times, women may participate too. In Atherstone, Warwickshire, this game has taken place for over 800 years. For two hours the town falls into a riotous scrum as the men and women grapple and push in a bid to claim the football. Streets are closed and shops are boarded up to minimise the damage. Anything goes, and the only rule is that the ball is not allowed to leave the town's boundaries. When the time is up, the man with the football in his hands is declared the winner, and gets to keep the ball as a trophy.
France - Carnival
In France, not much happens on Shrove Tuesday, although some towns celebrate it with a Carnival. Many believe these festivals to be pre-Christian. The Mardi Gras carnivals include parades, eating of pancakes, and having a party before Lent begins.
The traditions for this day in France also have spread across into French speaking colonies around the world, including the famous Mardi Gras carnival in New Orleans.
Jo from Paris explains:
"This day is nowadays not very celebrated in France except for some cities like Nice where you have a big "Parade". It is also celebrated a lot in the Caribbean. Traditionally it is called "Carnaval" or "Mardi gras". You eat "Crepes" and sweets and get dressed up and have a big party in the city, town, or village. At the end of the day, you burn "Bonhomme Carnaval" which represents winter. It celebrates the beginning of the end of winter. After partying and eating lots on this day, you start forty days of not eating much to purify yourself for Easter. This diet is called "Carême"."
Pancakes are also eaten on ‘Fête de la Chandeleur’, which occurred forty days after Christmas. This day is known to most of us as Candlemass, and takes place on 2nd February.
Germany - Fastnachtsdienstag
Germany is a land filled with dozens of localised variations of festivals, and each region is proud of their different way of doing things. Guus describes what generally happens:
"Almost every smaller region over here in Germany celebrates differently. In some regions, Green Monday is the most important and they hardly do anything special on Shrove Tuesday." Green Monday is a day of purification and contemplation, where forgiveness is sought for sinful behaviour. In other regions, "Rosenmontag" (Rose Monday) is celebrated where a huge carnival is held. This is especially popular around the Rhine region in towns such as Cologne, Aachen, and Düsseldorf.
Guus describes the carnivals around Germany, "In other regions, the main events are held on the weekend before Shrove Tuesday. In some other regions, the festivals begin with a women's carnival. In a few regions in Germany, Shrove Tuesday known as "Fastnachtsdienstag", is the day where they celebrate a last big party before it's all over at Ash Wednesday on the following day. In the German city of Krefeld, on the Tuesday before Lent begins, they have their main carnival procession, as is done also in some other towns. After the procession lots of people come together and celebrate until midnight.... with lots of beer." It seems that no German festival is complete without a good knees-up, but after tasting their marvellous beer, that is hardly surprising!
Guus also mentioned an older custom, that appears in other regions. "One well known ritual at Shrove Tuesday late evening is the burning of a man made of straw (scarecrow), more or less meant as the end of the carnival."
Holland - Dikke Dinstag
In line with many other European countries, Dikke Dinsdag (meaning "thick Tuesday"), is the last day of revelling before fasting and restraint is followed in the lead up to Easter.
Sigha explains :
"To the Dutch it is called "Vastenavond" or "Dikke Dinsdag". It is celebrated in the southern regions of the Netherlands and marks the last day of a celebration called "carnaval". After this celebration a time if cleansing is done. It is a Catholic celebration here."
Traditionally, around the start of February a feast was held, and was the last opportunity to eat well before a time of food shortage at the end of the winter. On what nowadays is called "Vastenavond" meaning "the days before fasting" all of the remaining winter stores of butter, lard, and meat would be eaten before it began to go rotten, as livestock would have been slaughtered in the previous November. It seems no coincidence that Lent is timed to match these lean months, with fasting helping the remaining food last longer.
...all of the remaining winter stores of butter, lard, and meat would be eaten before it began to go rotten. It seems no coincidence that Lent is timed to match these lean months, with fasting helping the remaining food last longer.
Ireland - Máirt Inide
Roman Catholicism is the main religion in Ireland, so most religious festivals and saint's days are observed in this country. This festival is not so well known as Shrove Tuesday, rather it is known as Pancake Tuesday. Shane from Cork describes some of the traditions that they have:
"It's just called Pancake Tuesday here. The period of Lent meant abstaining from eggs and all dairy products, so all of these had to be used up before Ash Wednesday. When cookers were still operated with solid fuel (or the pan or griddle was used on an open fire), it is said that the fire would be started with a sprig of holly left over from the Christmas decorations."
Pancakes would be cooked on the stove, and the honour of tossing the first pancake would go to the eldest daughter. Shane adds, "The eldest unmarried daughter would toss the first pancake. If the toss would be successful, she would be married within the year."
Another custom is to hide meat in the rafters to help ensure good eating after Lent had ended. "In some areas of Ireland, the last scrap of meat from the meal on Shrove Tuesday was hung in the rafters or the chimney to ensure good luck and loads of meat after Lent."
Russia - Maslenitsa
In Russian this is "Ма́сленица" and is also known as Butter Week, Crepe week, or Cheesefare week, which takes place in the lead up to Lent. In the vast area that Russia covers, this particular festival is observed in the eastern Slavic regions.
To Christians, it is the last period when dairy products, meat, fish, and eggs can be eaten. Lent is a very sober period, as not only are the aforementioned foods forbidden, but secular music, dancing, parties, and other distractions that are considered distracting from the spiritual way of life are banned. As you can imagine, people binge on as much of this as possible before the Lenten period.
"Maslenitsa is a week long. It's importance is in making peace with your neighbors and relatives in preparation for Lent. Countryside traditions have significant pre-Christian connotations. Practices include simulated funerals, public nakedness and burning of straw effigies."
Pancakes, known as a bliny or blintz, are a traditional food of this period. They are made using some of the ingredients that are soon to be banned; eggs, butter, and milk. It is said that these pancakes were special in pre-Christian times as their round golden appearance represented the sun.
There are set activities in some regions of this festival week. For example, one day is devoted to sleigh rides across the snowy landscape. Another is dedicated to visiting certain relatives.
A straw effigy is made for this festival, which is known as Lady Maslenitsa. This effigy was formerly known as Kostroma, who was before Christianity, a Slavic fertility goddess. On the Sunday before Lent, Lady Maslenitsa is stripped of her robes, and put in a bonfire with any remaining pancakes. The ashes are buried beneath the snow, in a bid to fertilise the crops of the the coming year's harvest.
A Maslenitsa bonfire in Russia.
Sweden - Fettisdagen
Sweden calls Shrove Tuesday "Fettisdagen", meaning "Fat Tuesday" which occurrs before the fasting period of Lent. A special bun known as Semla is eaten on this day, which is based on hetväggen, an upper-class pastry from the 1700s.
Anders from Sweden explains:
"Then you ate a lot and you had to get a bit fat to last better. So we eat something called "Semla", which is a typical bun but whipped cream and sort of cheaper version of marzipan added to the middle. It's absolutely fabulous! Today it's always a big discussion on which café or bakery that serves the the tastiest version, and more or less all newspapers pick their own winner each year. Back in the older days (1940-60's and earlier) people used to eat it sitting in a bowl with hot milk (probably due to the buns being too dry to eat). This is one of the big days during the winter. And bakeries start with the production and sales in early January. Some people get very angry if people eat it other days than this special Tuesday. Sort of like heresy!"
The Swedes take their Semla buns very seriously.
Wales - Dydd Mawrth yr Ynyd
In Wales, Shrove Tuesday is known as "Dydd Mawrth yr Ynyd", which means "The Day of Tuesday of Start". As you can see, it doesn't translate well into English. It is the name of the day before the solemn festival of "Grawys" begins. Instead of Lent, Grawys is a fast observed by Welsh Catholics that lasts for fourteen days, and is held in tribute to Christ's fourteen day trek through the desert.
Gareth from North Wales explains:
"Dydd Mawrth yr Ynyd is way more commonly known as Dydd Crempogau, which translates as Pancake Day. It is the final day of eating before the fast begins, so a lot of pancakes are devoured on this day. It was incredibly popular in the Middle Ages when Wales was a Catholic country.The butter and flour stores in the pantry were completely emptied to make as much food and pancakes. From the Middle Ages all the way to the 20th Century, kids would often go from door to door asking for pancakes, similar to trick or treaters at Halloween."
Cockerel fighting was a very popular sport on Shrove Tuesday at one point in history, but this bloodsport has long since been banned in the UK. Gareth adds, "Due to the increasing popularity of football, it was often played on Shrove Tuesday and strangely enough, young women would make hundreds upon hundreds of pancakes, take them down to the local match and hand them out for free to the players, but as there were so many players, the rules weren't always kept, and most football games turned into a chaotic mess, and most people had their windows broken during the game."
© 2015 Pollyanna Jones