John Larrysson Column: Pancake Day

Pancakes are a traditional English food. A pancake is a thin, flat cake, fried in a frying pan. They are made with flour, eggs, milk, butter and salt. A traditional English pancake is served hot with a topping of syrup or sugar. French pancakes are often rolled around a fruit stuffing. English and French pancakes are often thinner than the thick American type. American pancakes come from northern England and Scotland. In the UK they are called Scotch pancakes or drop scones.

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Have you ever seen a group of English women running down the road, flipping pancakes in their frying pans? In England there is a traditional holiday called Pancake Day. At noon a bell will be rung in some English churches. Traditionally this bell is the signal to stop work and make pancakes.

Pancake races are an important part of the traditional celebrations. Many people wear traditional clothes or other unusual costumes. They will have a race in the street while tossing pancakes in a frying pan. The winner is the first woman to get to the church. However unlike most races, the runners must be carrying a frying pan, with a cooked pancake in it, and flipping the pancake while they run. After the race is a church service.

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The legend is that once, long ago a woman heard the church bell while she was making pancakes. She wanted to go to the church and ran there still holding her hot frying pan with a pancake in it. To honour her dedication others repeated what she had done and it became a race to see who would get to the church first.

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The proper name of Pancake Day is Shrove Tuesday. It is before the Christian fast of Lent. This word fast does not mean quickly, but to not eat food or some kinds of food, especially for religious reasons. The end of Lent is Easter. During Lent one is supposed to feel sorry for things that one has done wrong during the past year. Traditionally during Lent, people didn't eat rich foods, including those with meat, dairy or eggs. Today people might only stop eating something they particularly like, such as chocolate. So making pancakes was a good way to use the last of the butter and eggs. The word Shrove means to be forgiven. It is a day to ask God to forgive one for sins done in the past year.

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Pancake Day is on the Tuesday 47 days before Easter Sunday. The date of Easter is set by the lunar calendar, so the dates of Easter and Pancake Day vary. In 2016 Pancake Day is on Tuesday, the 9th of February. Pancake day is not a bank holiday (public holiday). That means that it is a holiday, but not a vacation. As a holy day, it has an old traditional and cultural importance. It is not a vacation, because there is no time off work. Although the government does not give everyone a day off from work, people often make their own arrangements for time off on that Tuesday. If you ever see a group of English women running down the road flipping pancakes in their frying pans, you will know what day it is.

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by John Larrysson

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A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.


NOTE: Starting in 2016, this column has been published once every two weeks, on every other Tuesday, except school holidays.

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