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Fat Tuesday: Grab your frying pan and head for the pancake races

February 21, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • Competitors take part in the annual pancake race in the British town of Olney.
Competitors take part in the annual pancake race in the British town of Olney. (Alastair Grant / Associated…)

Fat Tuesday is better known in some parts of the world as Pancake Day. As we prepare to mark the official end of Mardi Gras 2012 with some King Cake -- while preparing for Lent, of course -- it's worth taking a look at what just might be the most charming part of Carnival season.

Mardi Gras finishes off the season with a frenzied celebration of hedonistic carnal excesses: booze, partying and rich and fatty foods to name but a few. It's a way to get everything in before Lent, the traditional 40-day period set aside for self-sacrifice. That period leads up  to the single most important day on the Christian calendar, Easter.

But not everyone is hanging from the lamp posts. Devout Christians, for one. They might indulge only a little here or there, perhaps with a Fat Tuesday feast. And therein lies the history of how Pancake Day got its name.

Christians refer to Fat Tuesday as Shrove Tuesday, but the two days have much in common. Traditionally, the day is marked by clearing out the fridge of goodies and perishables that would be off limits during Lent.

Rich, fluffy, butter-and-syrup-dripping pancakes are one such item.

Legend has it that in the year 1445, a homemaker in Olney, England, was whipping up a batch of delicious pancakes on Shrove Tuesday when she lost track of time and was caught off guard when she heard the church bells ringing.

Well, this must have been one devout woman.

She supposedly ran out the door, frying pan still in hand, a pancake still in the frying pan, and a headscarf still holding back her hair  -- and she showed up at church just like that.

Such devotion has earned her the undying gratitude of pancake lovers everywhere, and she is immortalized (although no one seems to remember her name) with annual pancake races.

There are a handful in the United States. St. Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church in Yucca Valley, Calif., for example, is scheduled to its sixth annual race at 5 p.m. PST today.

The races are more commonly held in Europe, especially Olney, where competitors wear headscarves and line up at a starting line with frying pans containing pancakes. They race from a local marketplace to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, and must flip their pancakes a predetermined number of times along the route. 

Pancake Day isn't an official holiday in Britain, but it has turned into a day in which little to no work gets done. Must be that post-carb crash.

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