GCSE Religious Studies: What is Pancake Day?

Serena Atkins

March 03, 2014

Who’s looking forward to Pancake Day tomorrow? Everyone of course! But who knows why we celebrate it, and how it’s relevant to your GCSE Religious Studies..?



Take some time out from pancake-tossing competitions and filling-creating battles to find out. You can even use this tutorial as some easy-going revision material.

Pancake Day’s proper name is in fact Shrove Tuesday. ‘Shrove’ comes from the word ‘shrive’, meaning confess and receive forgiveness for your sins. Shrove Tuesday is a day of penitence and confessing of sins to cleanse the soul before Ash Wednesday when the Christian fasting period of Lent begins.

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What is Lent?

Lent is the period of 40 days leading up to Easter. During this period, Christians reflect on Jesus Christ’s withdrawal into the desert just after his baptism, when he fasted for 40 days. During Lent Christians often try to follow Jesus’ example by giving up luxuries, practicing more self-discipline and devoting time to prayer. Lent is also a preparation for the self-sacrifice Jesus made at Easter. Whereas the Easter feast celebrates the resurrection (rising from the dead) of Jesus, the Lent fast considers the events leading up to his death on the cross. This pattern of a fast leading up to a feast is found elsewhere in Christianity - the most well-known example being Advent and Christmas.

The number 40 is important elsewhere in Christianity too: in the flood (the one with Noah’s Ark) it rained for 40 days and nights, and the Israelites lived in the desert for 40 years after the Exodus from Egypt before entering Canaan.

Count up the days between Shrove Tuesday (4th March) and Easter (20th April); do they actually add up to 40? Can you figure out why not?

What has Pancake Day got to do with all of this?

Shrove Tuesday is a day of celebration because it is the last chance to indulge yourself before Lent starts. Traditionally during Lent, Christians would not eat foods such as meat, fats, eggs and milky foods. And of course, these foods need to be used up so that they don’t go off during Lent.  What uses up eggs, fats and milk, with a just a little bit of flour?…PANCAKES!

As it happens, in the Northern hemisphere Lent coincides with a period when these foods tend to be in short supply anyway… Elsewhere, Shrove Tuesday is known as Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, because of all the rich fatty foods eaten up.

So, when tucking into your pancakes tomorrow on Shrove Tuesday 2014, think about the religious meaning behind them and impress your R.E. teacher or tutor with all your inside knowledge.

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Why not have a go at giving up something yourself for Lent? All of us at the Tutorfair office will be. You don’t have to be religious. It’s a good opportunity to test your willpower and give up some of those unhealthy snacks that your body probably won’t miss for 40 days, or some of those bad habits that do nothing for your concentration. (No, giving up your GCSE revision does not count!) It will definitely make you look forward to Easter even more!

Need some extra help in preparation for your Religious Studies GCSE exam? Here’s a selection of some of Tutorfair’s tutors who could help you out!

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Phineas P - Experienced tutor who gets great results

Aren R - Inspiring, enthusiastic, knowledgeable PhD student

Benjamin O - Offering an alternative to the ‘one-size-fits-all approach’

Images from www.flickr.com CC-by