Everyone loves pancakes, but can anyone explain to me why or when this started? Please do not tell me it is because people like pancakes so much!
As I stated in an answer to a related question, historically it has been the case that during Lent, and perhaps during some other times, required abstinence from meat has included not only abstinence from meat products but also abstinence from any animal products, including dairy, fat, and eggs.
Thus, it has historically been the case that between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, Catholics (which in medieval times included most of Europe) could not eat any of these substances during Lent. Since food preservation, especially of these types of substances, was largely ineffective, there had to be a way to consume them before Lent so that they did not spoil. Pancake Tuesday (which may have had its origin in non-Christian European observations) was an effective way to do just that, since pancakes require butter, eggs, and sometimes milk to make.
It's traditionally known as Shrove Tuesday, but is known by a few names:
- Pancake Tuesday
- Mardi Gras
- Fat Tuesday
- probably more besides
The day is most definitely a tradition of Catholics and some other ecclesial bodies who observe Lent.
It is a feast day, a day of fattening before fasting for forty days. Sadly, the occasion has been abused, especially in the case of Mardi Gras where a one-day celebration started to initiate the Lenten season, turned into a two-week secular occasion, and a license for licentious behavior which is not in the spirit of Lent. I like calling it Pancake Tuesday; having a triple stack of hotcakes isn't so bad compared to making a trip to Louisiana to engage in who knows what.