Shrove-Tuesday, at whose entrance in the morning all the whole kingdom is inquiet, but by that time the clocke strikes eleven, which (by the help of a knavish sexton) is commonly before nine, then there is a bell rung, cal’d the Pancake-bell, the sound whereof makes thousands of people distracted, and forgetful either of manners or humanitie; then there is a thing called wheaten floure, which the cookes do mingle with water, eggs, spice, and other tragical, magical inchantments, and then they put it by little and little into a frying pan of boiling suet, where it makes a confused dismal hissing, (like the Lernean Snakes in the reeds of Acheron, Stix, or Phlegeton) until at last, by the skill of the Cooke, it is transformed into the forme of a Flip-Jack, cal’d a Pancake, which ominous incantation the ignorant people doe devoure very greedily. John Taylor, English poet (August 24, 1580 – 1654)
Shrove comes from the old English word shrive = to shrive is to be absolved following confession. Those who have received absolution are the shriven. The priest who dose the shriving is the shriver. The shriven would feast using up all the foods that were avoided during Lent.
The practice of feasting is not complete without revelry and merrymaking. Many of the rules of acceptable behaviour are set aside so as to ensure that a “wild time” is had by all:
- Men dressed as women and women dressed as men (Prussia 15th century)
- Football was played with wild abandon in the streets to ensure that windows were broken and gardens disturbed
- Dancing in long meandering lines through the streets was encouraged
- Church clipping: clasping hands and surrounding the church
- Jokes were told
- Magic usually forbidden was preformed
- Skipping (usually forbidden) was encouraged with up to ten people skipping together using the same rope (considered scandalous at other times of the year)
- Fortune telling was allowed
- Dancing was encouraged on church property!
- Children were encouraged to mock their elders!
- Tricks were played on members of the clergy.
- Clergy decked in all their finery engaged in races.
- Little boys and girls went from house to house knocking on doors and then running away.
- Water was poured over the heads of officials.
- Unspeakable things were done to chickens.
- Eggs were tossed.
Pagan Roots: the grand battle between Winter and Spring
- Masks were worn to scare Winter away
- the pancake is the symbol of the sun
- music and revelry frightens Winter and Welcomes Spring
- Church bells were rung at odd times to confuse Winter
- Skipping made the earth more fertile
- Boys and girls were encouraged to sneak away together so that matches might become inevitable.
- Sledding down snowy slopes on Shrove Tuesday encourages the land to be fertile.
Did you know?
- The faithful once believed that it was advantageous to hang one’s laundry out on Shrove Tuesday because chances were that the laundress having just received absolution, hanging laundry in a town full of folks who had just received absolution was sure to mean that the whites would dry whiter than white!
- Certain works were forbidden on Shrove Tuesday: mending, sewing, hair combing, rope twisting and grindstone milling. Disobeying these bans will bring about summer storms, winds will rip off roofs, chicken will scratch in gardens, meat will have worms and fingers will swell.
- Carnival = fare well to carni = meat