What Is Shrove Tuesday?

Definition, date, and traditions

Pancakes, butter and jam on white plate
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Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Roman Catholic Church (and those Protestant churches that observe Lent).

Shrove Tuesday is a reminder that Christians are entering a season of penance and was originally a solemn day. But over the centuries, in anticipation of the Lenten fast that would begin the next day, Shrove Tuesday took on a festive nature. That is why Shrove Tuesday is also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras (which is simply French for Fat Tuesday).

Since Ash Wednesday always falls 46 days before Easter Sunday, Shrove Tuesday falls on the 47th day before Easter. (See The 40 Days of Lent and How Is the Date of Easter Calculated?) The earliest date that Shrove Tuesday can fall is February 3; the latest is March 9.

Since Shrove Tuesday is the same day as Mardi Gras, you can find the date of Shrove Tuesday in this and future years in When Is Mardi Gras?

Pronunciation: sh rōv ˈt(y)oōzˌdā

Example: "On Shrove Tuesday, we always have pancakes to celebrate before the coming of Lent."

The Origin of the Term

Shrove is the past tense of the word shrive, which means to hear a confession, assign penance, and absolve from sin. In the Middle Ages, especially in Northern Europe and England, it became the custom to confess one's sins on the day before Lent began in order to enter the penitential season in the right spirit.

Related Terms

From the earliest days of Christianity, Lent, the penitential period before Easter, has always been a time of fasting and abstinence.

While the Lenten fast today is confined to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstinence from meat is required only on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the other Fridays of Lent, in previous centuries the fast was quite severe. Christians abstained from all meat and items that came from animals, including butter, eggs, cheese, and fat.

That is why Shrove Tuesday became known as Mardi Gras, the French term for Fat Tuesday. Over time, Mardi Gras extended from a single day to the entire period of Shrovetide, the days from the last Sunday before Lent through Shrove Tuesday.

Fat Tuesday in Other Countries and Cultures

In the countries that speak Romance language (languages derived primarily from Latin), Shrovetide is also known as Carnivale—literally, "farewell to meat." In the English-speaking countries, Shrove Tuesday became known as Pancake Day, because Christians used up their eggs, butter, and milk to make pancakes and other pastries.

Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, and Lenten Recipes

You can find a great collection of recipes from around the About.com network for Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras in Fat Tuesday Recipes. And when your Mardi Gras feast has ended, check out these meatless recipes for Lent.