Shrove Tuesday heralds the beginning of fasting in Lent. On this day (so the historians say) there were feasts of pancakes to use up the supplies of fat, butter and eggs - foods that were forbidden during austere Lent.
In England the Pancake Day Race has been held since 1445. The race came about when a woman cooking pancakes heard the shriving bell summoning her to confession. She ran to church wearing her apron and still holding her frying pan, and thus without knowing it, started a tradition that has lasted for over five hundred years.
In France the main ceremonial day for pancake eating is Candlemas on the 2nd of February. This holy day is six weeks after Christmas and is the day that Christ was presented at the temple by his mother. During this festival, French children wear masks and demand pancakes and fritters.
Pancakes are the traditional treat of the Jewish Hanukkah festival. They are fried in oil to commemorate the oil found by the Maccabeans when they recaptured Jerusalem from the Syrians. The one day's supply of oil for the temple lamps burned miraculously for one week. And, tradition says, the wives of the soldiers hurriedly cooked pancakes behind the lines for their warring husbands.
Large or small, fat or wafer thin and made with a wide range of flours, pancakes are given different names by different peoples. There are Hungarian palacsinta, Chinese egg rolls, Jewish blintzes, Russian blini, Italian cannelloni, Swedish plattar, Mexican tortillas, American hotcakes, German pfannkucken, Norwegian lefser, Austrian nockerin, Welsh crempog and Australian pikelets: but undoubtedly the most famous of them all is the great French crepe.