What is Shrove Tuesday? Meaning, Traditions, and 2021 Date

Christianity.com Editorial Staff
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Also known as Fat Tuesday and Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday and the fasting Lenten season leading up to Easter. This religious holiday is observed in many Christian countries by participating in confession and absolution, the ritual burning of the previous year's Holy Week palms, finalizing one's Lenten sacrifice, as well as eating pancakes and other sweets.

Read more about the traditions and meaning of Shrove Tuesday below and find the date for 2021, along with the full Lenten season timeline.

According to Crosswalk.com: "The origins of Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras first began thousands of years ago as part of uninhibited pagan festivals for fertility and spring, filled with indulgences in everything. Rome’s embrace of Christianity meant the interest of incorporating Fat Tuesday into Christianity becoming a goal; thus, Fat Tuesday and all its unrestricted immorality were welcomed as part of preparing for Ash Wednesday and fasting for Lent. The event quickly spread through Europe like wildfire, and then began its journey over to the Americas. Mardi Gras arrived in the United States as a small festival marking French explorers Sieur de Bienville and Pierre Le Moyne d’lberville’s landing on what is now New Orleans, Louisiana on March 3, 1699."

Those origins seem rather odd. So why do Christians take part in Shrove Tuesday. Should we avoid the holiday altogether, or is there merit to celebrating this holiday? In this article, we'll dive into when Shrove Tuesday will happen this year, the history of Shrove Tuesday, and some traditions.

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When is Shrove Tuesday in 2021?

Shrove Tuesday falls on the day before Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent). The date can range from as early as February 3 to as late as March 9. It is preceded by Shrove Monday and marks the end of Shrovetide, also known as the Pre-Lenten Season. This year, Shrove Tuesday is on Tuesday, February 16, 2021.

Shrove Tuesday is precisely 47 days before Easter Sunday, a movable feast based on the computus calculation that determines the yearly date of Easter.

Lenten Season Dates for 2021

Shrove Tuesday: Tuesday, February 16, 2021
Ash Wednesday: Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Palm Sunday: Sunday, March 28, 2021
Easter (Pascha) Sunday: Sunday, April 4, 2021

View the full timeline of the 40-day Lenten season in the image below:

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Image of Lent Calendar by Cmglee on Wikipedia

Dates for Shrove Tuesday 2021 - 2025

February 16, 2021
March 1, 2022
February 21, 2023
February 13, 2024
March 4, 2025

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History of Shrove Tuesday

The tradition of acknowledging the start of the Lenten fast has been observed for at least hundreds of years. By the age of the late Middle Ages, the feast of Shrovetide lasted until the start of Lent. It was customary in many cultures to eat pancakes or other foods made with the butter, eggs, and fat that would be given up during the Lenten season. The particular tradition of British Christians enjoying pancakes on Shrove Tuesday dates back to the 16th century. 

Along with its celebration of feasting, another tradition of Shrove Tuesday includes Christians repenting of their sins in preparation to start the season of Lent. Ælfric of Eynsham's "Ecclesiastical Institutes" from about 1000 AD declared: "In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance]". 

In many Protestant and Roman Catholic Christian churches, a popular Shrove Tuesday ritual is the ringing of the church bells (on this day, known as the Shriving Bell) "to call the faithful to confession before the solemn season of Lent" and for people to "begin frying their pancakes". Some churches also burn the palms distributed during the previous year's Palm Sunday liturgies to make the ashes used during the services held on the very next day, Ash Wednesday.

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Traditions of Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday serves multiple purposes of encouraging Christians to repent of their sins before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday and also giving them the opportunity to partake in a last round of jubilation before the beginning of the austere Lenten season, which is characterized by making a Lenten sacrifice, fasting, praying and several spiritual disciplines, such as checking a Lenten calendar and reading a daily devotional.

Pancakes are connected with Shrove Tuesday as a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting period of the 40 days of Lent. Liturgical fasting calls for eating simpler food while abstaining from meat, dairy products, or eggs.

On Shrove Tuesday, the final day of the Shrovetide season, many Christians, such as Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and Roman Catholics, have an emphasized focus of self-examination, reflecting on what sins they need to repent for, and what improvements in life or aspects of spiritual growth they need to ask God's help in edifying.

Additionally, many Christians conclude their determination of what Lenten sacrifices they will make for the 40 days of Lent on Shrove Tuesday. While undergoing a Lenten sacrifice, it is helpful to pray for strength; and encouraging fellow Christians in their fast saying, for example: "May God bless your Lenten sacrifice."

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Meaning of the Name "Shrove Tuesday"

The name “Shrove Tuesday” arises from it marking the culmination of the season known as Shrovetide which includes indulging in food that one might give up as their Lenten sacrifice.

The word shrove is a form of the English word shrive, which means to receive absolution for one's sins by way of Confession and fulfilling a penance. Thus Shrove Tuesday was named after the tradition of Christians to be "shriven" before the start of Lent

In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, and parts of the Commonwealth, Shrove Tuesday is also known as "Pancake Day" or "Pancake Tuesday", as it became a common practice to eat pancakes as a celebratory meal.

What is Shrovetide?

Shrovetide, also known as the Pre-Lenten Season, is the Christian period of preparation before the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent.

Shrovetide starts on Septuagesima Sunday, includes Sexagesima Sunday, Quinquagesima Sunday (commonly called Shrove Sunday), as well as Shrove Monday, and concludes on Shrove Tuesday.

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Prayer and Scriptures for Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday Prayer

God Our Father, As we prepare to begin Lent, help us to remember what today, Shrove Tuesday, is truly about.

Thank you that you Love all of us as your children and that through the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus, we can receive forgiveness for our sins. Help us to celebrate and live that message of forgiveness today by forgiving those who have sinned against you.

Lord, we know that you created the world and you created us. You created pancakes and you created our taste-buds too! Enable us to enjoy ‘pancake day’ in a spirit of celebration of the goodness of your creation. We make this prayer through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Source: sjchs.uk

Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Almighty and eternal God, you hate nothing you have made and you forgive the sins of those who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that we truly repent of our sins, acknowledge our wretchedness, and obtain perfect forgiveness from you, the God of all mercy; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Source: Historic Collect for Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer, 1549

Shrove Tuesday Scriptures

Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out ~ Acts 3:19

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” ~ Matthew 4:17

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. ~ 2 Peter 3:9

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ~ Hebrews 10:24-25

That is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. ~ Romans 1:12

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. ~ Acts 2:46-47

Originally published January 05, 2021.