This section is in advanced English and is only intended to be a guide, not to be taken too seriously!
With dictionary look up. Double click on any word for its definition.
Shrove is an old English word meaning to confess one's sins. A person is said to be a shrove, or shriven when he/she has confessed. Shrove Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent.
During the period of Lent the devout were expected to practice complete abstinence, including not eating meat, and so frugal housewives, mindful of the waste of perishable foodstuffs if they were not eaten before the Lent fasting commenced, pancakes were a good way to use up food and pancake races are a traditional sport on Shrove Tuesday which has also become known as Pancake Day.
Pancake-racing is one of the more unlikely events on the British sporting calendar and takes place in many towns and villages each Shrove Tuesday. The object of the race is to run 450 yards and get to the finishing line first, carrying a frying pan (diameter no larger than 45cm (18 ins)) with a (cooked) pancake in it whilst flipping the pancake a pre-decided number of times. The skill lies not so much in the running of the race but in flipping - and catching - the pancake, which must be intact when the finishing line is reached. Nowadays these events are often held to raise money for charity.
Allegedly the pancake race started in Olney in 1445. Legend has it that women customarily used up accumulated cooking fats (forbidden during Lent) to bake pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. One woman, engrossed in her pancakes, forgot the time until she heard the church bells calling everyone to the shriving service. She ran to the church, clad in her apron and with skillet in hand, to become the first pancake racer. In following years, other women of Olney, not to be outdone by their neighbors, got into the act.
Nowadays a Pancake Bell is rung and the Pancake Race begins. The course is 425 yards long and shaped like an S from the Old Bull pub in the centre of the village to the church gate. Only women over 16 years of age can enter, they must be a native of the village or a resident for at least 3 months and they must wear clothes typical of a housewife such as a skirt, apron and headscarf. The pancake must be in a frying pan and must be loose. To ensure that it is not glued to the pan, the pancake must be tossed up in the air before the start and after the finish of the race.
Unfortunately Health and Safety insanity has forced some councils and schools to cancel their traditional pancake race, in one town, St Albans, they even insisted that the contestants walk, because it was raining! See the story here.
(Information taken from Origins of Festivals Feasts, Jean Harowven, Kaye Ward, London, 1980)
Another long running (if you'll excuse the pun) tradition is the Shrove Tide Football Match, held in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Here the men of Ashbourne play football through the streets of the town, in a no rules (thankfully murder and manslaughter are barred), free-for-all. It is the world's the world's oldest, largest, longest and maddest football game. The game takes place between the Up'ards and Down'ards (two mills three miles apart which form the goal posts) and two teams attempt to score. The ball (a specially prepared one - slightly larger than a football and filled with cork) is thrown in by a visiting guest of honour. It can then be kicked, carried or thrown, and the game can last for many hours, often finishing after dark.
First recorded in 1682, though thought to be much older, various attempts have been made by the fun police to suppress it over the years. In 1891, it is said, the police attempted to prevent the game from being started at all, but the ball was smuggled in under the skirts of a woman. (Where there's a will, there's a way.)