Tuesday gets its name from the ritual of shriving, when the faithful
confessed their sins to the local priest and recieved forgiveness
before the Lenten season began.
As far back
as 1000 AD, "to
shrive" meant to hear confessions. (Trivia note: the
term survives today in the expression "short shrift"
or giving little attention to anyone's explanations or excuses.)
Shrove Tuesday also marked the beginning of the 40-day Lenten
fasting period when the faithful were forbidden
to consume meat, butter, eggs or milk.
However, if a family had
a store of these foods they would certainly spoil by the time the fast
ended on Easter Sunday. What to do? Use up the milk, butter and eggs no later than Shrove Tuesday.
And so, with the addition of a little flour, the solution quickly
presented itself in... pancakes.
Shrove Tuesday pancake tradition lives on in Western Europe,
the United States, Canada and Australia.
It is most associated
with the UK, where it is simply known as Pancake
Day with a traditional recipe that looks to all the world more like a French crepe rather than the 'mile-high' stack so popular on National Pancake Day in America:
In France, (as well as here in the US - or more famously - in New Orleans) Shrove Tuesday is better known as Fat Tuesday which kicks off the annual Mardi Gras festival with wild celebrations just before the austere Lenten season.
In Sweden, Fat Tuesday translates to Fettisdagen, and in Lithuania it's Uzgavens.
Meanwhile, traditional celebrations take place in Poland a week before Ash Wednesday -- on a Thursday -- and so it's Fat Thursday or Tlusty