United Reformed Church LogoShrove Tuesday seems to be a popular day in our calendar in communities and in family homes. If it is remembered in churches or religious schools little explanation is usually added to it. Shrove Tuesday is the day of preparation for Lent, that is, the day before Ash Wednesday. The name shrove is derived from the word “shrive”, meaning to hear someone's acknowledgement of their sins, to assure him or her of God's forgiveness, and to give appropriate spiritual advice. The term survives today in ordinary usage in the expression "short shrift". To give someone short shrift is to pay very little attention to his excuses or problems. The longer expression is, "to give him short shrift and a long rope," which formerly meant to hang a criminal with a minimum of delay.

Shrovetide is primarily religious and aligns with Fastnacht (the eve of the fast) although in contemporary society may be more associated with Pancake Day, Carnival (meaning without meat) or Fasching in German (as in Germany and Austria it is celebrated in a big way). Shrove Tuesday is also called Fat Tuesday: Mardi Gras (in French Mardi means Tuesday; gras means fat, as we know the phrase if we like "foie gras"), because on that day a thrifty housewife uses up the fats that she has kept around for cooking, but that she will not be using during Lent. Since pancakes are a standard way of using up fat.

In Christian communities all over the world, Lent is known as a penitential period, or at least giving up on some of our indulgences (like chocolate) in order to feel “uncomfortable” with our sins and change for the better spiritually. But the days leading up to Lent and even the 40-day Lenten period itself are also noted for special foods whose origins reflect the spirituality of the season.

Sugared, fatty food are meant to be consumed in copious quantities, the fried ribbons of dough typically eaten to celebrate the pre-Lenten carnival season include the Italian galani, cenci, bugie, and chiacchiere, and the Hungarian csöröge (which is a fantastically simple and delicious food usually served with home made apricot jam.). All descend from frictilia, sweets fried in lard used to celebrate festivals in ancient Roman times.

As we turn to the meditative, for many: the penitential, the season of Lent, we enjoy one last day of feasting and say to ourselves: from tomorrow (Ash Wednesday) we‘ll give up something that God sees wrong in our lives and exercise spiritual self-discipline until the next big celebration, Easter comes. It is the time when our focus shifts from self-denial and repentance to embracing the abundance and joy of a new life given by the Resurrected.

Yours in Christ, Revd John Gray