Traditionally viewed as a day of repentance, Shrove Tuesday has become the last day for celebration and feasting before the period of fasting required during the Lenten season. The name "Shrove Tuesday" is derived from the word "shrive", which means to confess and receive absolution. The name denotes a period of cleansing, wherein a person brings their lusts and appetites under subjection through abstention and self-sacrifice.
Shrove Tuesday originated during the Middle Ages. As in contemporary times, food items like meats, fats, eggs, milk, and fish were regarded as restricted during Lent. To keep such food from being wasted, many families would have big feasts on Shrove Tuesday in order to consume those items that would inevitably become spoiled during the next forty days. The English tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday came about as a way to use as much milk, fats, and eggs as possible before Ash Wednesday began.
Originally beginning on Sunday, Shrove Tuesday was a three-day celebration that culminated in large feasts on Tuesday night. By the beginning of the 20th century, however, the event was restricted to the Tuesday observance.
Shrove Tuesday has a variety of customs that have derived from different regions around Europe and the Americas. As previously mentioned, England began the tradition of serving pancakes, and for this reason the day is known as "Pancake Day". In addition, there are the annual Pancake Day Races, where contestants dress in aprons and scarves and race down a course flipping a pancake in a frying pan or skillet.
In Eastern Europe, the Carnival celebrations include boisterous processions where people in large masks parade around and play jokes on bystanders. The masks are often caricatures of individuals from traditional folklore. Men and women will dress as one another and engage in gendered mimicry. The day is filled with eating, drinking, fortune telling, and practical jokes.
For many Protestant believers, Shrove Tuesday holds no particular significance. For Catholics and Anglicans, however, the day is still observed with confession and absolution, in addition to modest feasting and rejoicing.