Like most lapsed Irish Catholics, I’m well aware that Pancake Day always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, that time-honoured celebration of 90s guitar bands from Belfast. Ash Wednesday also marks the beginning of the Feast of Lent, where Christians fast to commemorate the time Jesus spent forty days in the desert avoiding dessert.
Surprisingly, the Bible’s account of this makes no mention of pancakes, crêpes or other batter-based goodies. Some Christian scholars have speculated that Pancake Day may have been inspired by some apocryphal lost chapter of the Bible:
And on the day before He fasted for forty days and forty nights, Jesus did gather his disciples and did sayeth unto them: ‘Who amongst you has the Jif Lemon?’ And his disciples answered him, saying none amongst them had the Jif Lemon. And Jesus did sayeth onto them: ‘Who amongst you has the golden syrup?’ And his disciples answered him, saying none amongst them had the golden syrup. And Jesus was most displeased with their shoddy catering standards and did sayeth unto them: ‘Let he who is without Jif Lemon or golden syrup caster the first sugar…’
The Book of Moses Horwitz 4: 8-12
The earliest known pancake actually pre-dates Christianity and was discovered by archaeologists amongst the ruins of the famously-destroyed ancient Roman town, Pompeii. This fossilised flan was buried beneath tonnes of volcanic ash, leading some geologists to speculate that the AD 79 eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius might have been triggered by an unattended frying pan. In Ancient Greece, the original Olympic games often featured pancake flipping tournaments, although these had to abandoned following complaints from the Greek god, Pan.
In modern times, other cultures observe the day in different ways. Fans of the ever-popular Star Wars movies celebrate ‘Hancake Day’, in honour of their outlaw hero Han Solo who once skipped lunch for three years because he was frozen in carbonite. Hancakes resemble traditional pancakes, except for the missing bit at the front and the cockpit on the side.
Pancake Day is also known as Shrove Tuesday, “shrove” being an obsolete sixteenth century term to describe the act of pushing someone so aggressively that it causes them to wander around aimlessly.