February 9, 2016

From Prayers To Pancakes

by Sameea Jonnud, UK

“Oh, it’s Pancake Day” exclaimed my daughter. As we don’t celebrate the day it took us by surprise but it did give us a good topic to discuss.

Pancakes! From small fluffy cakes to paper thin crepes they are eaten the world over. In Britain we traditionally make thin pancakes from a batter of flour, milk and eggs.

You probably notice at the start of every year that for a few weeks the promotion aisles in supermarkets are filled with lemon juice, sugar and chocolate spreads while newspapers print recipes for pancakes with different types of filling. It is all, of course, for Pancake Day which marks the start of Lent, a forty day period which ends on Easter Sunday. But what exactly is Pancake Day?

Shrove Tuesday is traditionally a holy day when Christian people go to church, confess their sins and ask God to forgive them. It is the first day of the Lenten season, and some Christians decide to begin forty days of fasting in remembrance of the Prophet Jesus. However their fasting is not like that of Muslims because instead of taking no food and drink during the daytime they instead give up rich foods and other things of their choice during the whole of Lent. In France it is known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday and in England as Pancake day.

In the olden days when people did not have fridges and freezers, they had to use up food ingredients before Lent started. This resulted in people having big feasts to avoid wasting the food. In England people used many of the ingredients in one go and ended up with pancakes, which is how it got that name!

Over time, the feasts on Shrove Tuesday became bigger and now in many parts of the world they have carnivals such as Mardi Gras to celebrate. It has turned into a big day which is about indulging extravagantly, eating, getting drunk and dancing in the streets. This is quite sad, because feasts and carnivals are not why this day started; originally it was a day for giving up things and praying in remembrance of Jesus.

While Shrove Tuesday is one of the Christian holy days the Bible does not tell people to practice this day; it came about many centuries after the time of Prophet Jesus.  However, surely this would not have pleased Prophet Jesus himself who taught modesty, humbleness, meekness and piety.

In Britain we find that now Pancake Day seems to be celebrated as a Day in itself rather than as a part of the Easter tradition. Pancake making takes place and in some places races are held in the streets where people run while flipping pancakes in a frying pan. What a strange journey Shrove Tuesday has taken from its beginnings in prayer to today’s celebration of pancakes!

Pancakes are a delicious food we can eat with a great variety of sweet and savoury fillings; in Britain a traditional favourite is sugar and lemon juice. As Muslims, we don’t celebrate Shrove Tuesday; however we can enjoy eating pancakes throughout the year.

 Sameea Jonnud was born and educated in London. She enjoys writing on a range of issues, in particular from A British Muslim perspective. She tweets at @Zoya_o1