Tuesday, February 5, 2013

January 18, 2013 - Shroving, Mardi Gras, and Pancakes

by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster 

The story began in Olney, Buckinghamshire, England, on Strove Tuesday, 1445. A woman was making pancakes and forgot to think about the time. This was easy to do because the first small domestic table clock would not be available until at least five years later. Clocks, the kind you wind, the only ones which would be available until the latter half of the 20th Century, depend on the mainspring. The mainspring was invented after the pancakes were beginning to sizzle in the pan. Various sources credit Peter Hele, a locksmith from Nurnburg, also spelled Henlein with this innovation in 1490. Other sources place the date at some decades earlier. 

Regrettably, the woman's name is lost in history. But on the day in question she was busily occupied making pancakes from items in her larder which, the next day, she would be unable to use because Lent would have begun. Then, from across the town she heard the church bells ringing, marking the noon hour when the service for Shriving would begin. According to the stories which have come down to us, without even putting down the frying pan she rushed out of her home and into church, the pancake probably beginning to cool. 

Pancakes have been eaten on Shrove Tuesday, which is also known as Pancake Day, for a long time. In parts of England Pancake races are also held to memorialize the Lady of Olney.
Pancake races are still held in locations across England. In Olney, the race begins in the marketplace and ends at the church. There, the winner receives a prayerbook and a kiss from the Verger. 

Eggs, which are so prominent a part of Easter, are one of the things once given up. This may well explain why in the Ukraine elaborate Easter Eggs, called Pysanky, are still made today. 

The process necessitates dyes, making the egg inedible. But the vivid colors and fine lines draw the eye to the beauty in ordinary things. An egg, a stylus, bee's wax, and a candle, used to melt the wax are required. Making them is a process very conducive to inner contemplation. 

Customs vary. In New Orleans, Mardi Gras. In Italy, Carnevale. In England, pancakes eaten on the day before Lent. For Lent, each of us commits to an inner journey, focusing on a journey into the wilderness, which lasted 40 days, to be remembered always.

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