Today, the 21st February 2012 happens to be the day before Lent, not that I shall be giving anything up for Lent, not being of the monotheistic persuasion, however today therefore is, what I affectionately (and excitedly) refer to as Pankcake Day.
The Sock Lady raised a valid point this morning though, with "Happy Pancake Day" trending on Twitter, and other social networks being jammed full of pancake recipes, ideas, and surveys - has Shrove Tuesday all but disappeared from our collective conscience? How many people even know the meaning of Shrove Tuesday or why indeed it's less-significant sibling, Pancake Day, exists in the first place?
I don't want to insult the intelligence of anyone reading this, even in an atheistic household most people are probably familiarised with Christian celebrations in school, but as a brief history lesson which will act as a recap for a lot of people;
Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Day for many of us) is always the day preceding Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The Christian festival of Lent runs for 40 days in the lead up to Easter, and as such the date varies from one year to the next. During Lent Christians are expected to forego indulgence and luxury in recognition of Jesus' 40 days spent fasting in the desert. It is often the case that those practicing Christians observing the Lent festivities will choose a particular indulgence to give-up for the 40 day period, such as chocolate perhaps, or - as I heard from one person today - Facebook. So, on Shrove Tuesday, the last day before the fasting commences, pancakes would traditionally be consumed as they contain a lot of the foods that would be banned for the Lent festival, namely, sugar, flour, eggs and fat. We often top pancakes with further indulgent items, such as treacle, chocolate, more sugar, cream etc. In many ways it's a way of emptying the cupboards of temptation before Lent begins.
Some non-Christian families and individuals may observe the giving-something-up-for-Lent traditions for fun, or as an incentive to club together with a common goal, to lose weight by giving up fatty foods for example, but there are a significant number of people with no interest in the practices surrounding Lent as a whole, who still rush out to buy pancake ingredients on Shrove Tuesday. Many people don't even recognise the occasion by its religious name, referring to it only as "Pancake Day" (myself included), and they're in good company, as this is an approach shared by a majority of retailers too. I even received an invitation to a "Pancake Party" from our local Baptist Church this morning whilst there for their Tuesday morning Mothers & Toddlers group - with no mention of Shrove Tuesday at all.
So - as Sock Lady asks; have we all forgotten the "true meaning" of Shrove Tuesday? Did we even register it in the first place? She mentions Christmas and Easter as further religious festivals that seem to have lost their roots.
And here must disagree and get all positive about change. Sock Lady won't mind me spinning her thoughts on their head; this isn't a disagreement so much as her providing a fantastic source of inspiration that got me thinking on the walk to playgroup!
I recognise the change in our attitudes towards religious festivals, but what those people who frown upon such adaptions must remember is that we live in an ever changing society. Whilst still a predominantly Christian country (hence why Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday, Christmas, Easter, St. Valentine’s Day, Advent, Lent and so on and so forth are recognised at all) we are not the church-going God-fearing folk that we used to be, certainly when you consider the percentage of people who attend a church service every Sunday compared to that of 30, 40 and 50 years ago.
Many of our Great Grandparents would have practiced Lent traditions, and our Grandparents after them, who'd have brought our parents up to observe the same ritual eating and possibly fasting, which we ourselves were aware of as children. The fact that each generation may, in many cases, have lost its enthusiasm for religion (and I would never go so far as to say that religion is dead, or even dying, just that fewer off us today are practicing Christians) so the religious aspects of our cultural traditions may have fallen by the wayside.
The only way that one can assert that this is a negative thing, and that we shouldn't forget the true meaning of such festivals, is to say that we should all believe firmly in one God, or at least practice the religious rites and rituals of those organised religions whose festivals inspired our family traditions. This, in its nature, is an unfair assertion to make.
As a child my Mother made a half-hearted attempt to bring me up in a Christian household and I attended church and Sunday school for several years as well as an Inter-Church primary school (where Lent was very much observed in its "proper" form) but this had been abandoned by the time I turned 10, my Father having never attended church other than when required to do so by occasion, namely baptisms, weddings and funerals. I fully expect that my parents will be enjoying pancakes this evening after dinner though, as shall we. My Mum grew up in a house that would certainly have had pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, as would my Grandparents have done as children. Should we really stop what has become a family tradition as a result of a religious festival because it has become just that, a cultural tradition and not a religious one? Personally, I think not.
What is so wrong with us giving chocolate eggs at Easter because we have fond memories of doing so as children and want our own kids to have that excitement, expectation and tummy ache? Easter not about chocolate to you? That's fine, it is for us.
We give presents at Christmas, we decorate a tree, and we listen to Wham! - And what? Christmas is a fantastically magical time, the modern interpretation of which takes inspiration from celebrations all over the world, and shall continue to evolve as our society becomes more diverse.
St. Valentines Day - yes it's become commercial, yes I love it.
Advent calendars - we don't have a religious advent calendar and do not practice Christian advent ritual, because we are not a religious family, we do have chocolate ones (Thomas the Tank for Seb in 2011, Hotel Chocolat couple's version for John and I) because that is part of the magic of our Christmas.
And we have Pancakes on Pancake Day because that is what my family do, not because we are observing the religious festival of Lent, but because we celebrate family and good memories, associated with this age-old religious tradition.
So today I should like to celebrate Pancake Day, and wish those of you preparing for Lent a very happy Shrove Tuesday, and hope that the two can co-exist quite merrily as they always have in my kitchen. Please don't feel guilty tonight if you're eating pancakes but don't believe in one God!
My Fiance John last year on Pancake Day!