It's pancake day today and it got me thinking about the way traditions persist over time even when they have become entirely detached from their origins. Once called Shrove Tuesday it was the day before the Lenten fast and the name derives from the notion of being shriven of one's sins before the start of Lent. The tradition of pancake eating comes from a need to use up the rich foods in the larder – eggs, milk, sugar – that were forbidden during Lent. Some also see the ingredients of the humble pancake as having symbolic significance: eggs – creation; milk – purity; salt – wholesomeness
Shrove Tuesday was something of a community celebration. The tradition of pancake races is said to derive from a woman in Olney who was so late for church she ran there in her apron, pan in hand and the rite exists to this day, with women dressing in pinnies to race through the rural towns of England tossing pancakes along the way.
Another tradition is the football game which still exists, though happily in a less violent form. In Medieval times the game was mob-football where a gang of men would kick a ball towards a goal but the only rule appears to have been that murder or manslaughter were disallowed.
This celebration exists in one form or another throughout the Christian world with Mardi Gras – or Fat Tuesday being one and is linked to carnival in many countries, a time when the normal rules are turned on their head.
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