Christian Traditions 012: Shrovetide and Quinquagesima Sunday

Von Trapp Follow-Along: As described in detail in a previous blog post, Maria discusses this period at length under “CARNIVAL.”

14-17 February 2015WHEN IS IT?

Quinquagesima Sunday is the first Sunday before Ash Wednesday, occurring 50 days before Easter. This year, that’s 15 February. Because Ash Wednesday is a moveable feast (it’s based on the date of Easter, which is based roughly on the Spring Equinox, and so Easter and, by extension, Ash Wednesday move to a different date every year), Quinquagesima is also a moveable feast. The earliest it may occur is 1 February and the latest it can occur is 7 March. Shrovetide, which is the Saturday before to the Tuesday after Quinquagesima Sunday, will occur 14 February to 17 February.

Frans_Hals,_Merrymakers_at_Shrovetide_(c._1616–1617)WHAT IS IT?

“Shrove” comes from “shrive,” which refers to the confession of sins practiced on the day before Lent.

Shrovetide refers to the period encompassing the last four days before Ash Wednesday. The last day before Lent, Shrove Tuesday, is so named because one of the three primary purposes of Lent is penance, and so the day before Lent starts became the day on which people confessed their sins in preparation for the penance of Lent. The word “shrove” comes from “shrive,” which means (1) to present oneself to a priest for confession, penance, and absolution, or (2) to hear the confession of, assign penance to, and absolve someone.

As discussed in a previous post, during Lent, people were not allowed to eat animal products, such as meat (including poultry and fish), eggs, and dairy products (though today, the only prohibition is meat). Therefore, Pre-Lent and Carnival, the entire period of 17 days before Ash Wednesday, became a time of celebration before the solemnity of Lent. Furthermore, the last few days before Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) developed into a time when people hurriedly attempted to empty their kitchens and pantries of the forbidden food since otherwise it would spoil in the following 50 days of Lent. Over time, traditions arose for each day of Shrovetide.

Shrove Saturday (so named because it is the last Saturday before Shrove Tuesday) is also known as Egg Saturday or Egg Feast Day because students and children were traditionally given pasch (pronounced pask) eggs (often limed or pickled) on this day. They are basically Easter eggs, a symbol of Christ’s resurrection, and are generally dyed or painted. Often, the creator would write a name on it in grease because the grease does not absorb the dye, and so after dying, the egg appears to have a name on it.

quinquagesimaQuinquagesima Sunday is so named because it occurs 50 days before Easter (if you include both Easter Sunday and Quinquagesima Sunday in the counting).  It is also known as Shrove Sunday because it’s the last Sunday before Shrove Tuesday. It’s also named Estomihi from the beginning of the liturgy before the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper performed on that day, which reads “Esto mihi in Deum protectorem…” This was usually the day on which the coming festivities were discussed and planned.

Shrove Monday (so named because it is the last Monday before Shrove Tuesday) is also known as Collop Monday because this is the day on which people would eat collops of bacon (a “collop” is a chunk or slice of meat or fat) with eggs. The fat drained and collected from the collops were the source of fat for the next day’s traditional meal. Children from poor families would take this day to go begging for food, called “Shroving” or “Gooding.”

Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent, is also known as “Fat Tuesday” in English (or, in the original French, “Mardi Gras”) because it is the day on which all remaining animal products, especially fats and cream, must be used up. It was also known as Pancake Day, for the traditional food to eat on that day. As Maria Von Trapp explains, pancakes probably became the traditional food for Shrove Tuesday because it’s a recipe that requires butter, milk, and eggs. Any remaining fat and eggs were usually used to make the pancakes for this day. On Shrove Tuesday, the church would ring the Pancake Bell in the evening to tell people that it was time (1) to come to church for the shriving, (2) to stop work for the day, and (3) to start making pancakes. After church was when the fun began.

As also discussed in the previous post about Pre-Lent and Carnival, Shrovetide and especially Shrove Tuesday, being the last day on which animal products could be eaten, was a time for feasting. Along with feasting came games, sports, dancing, singing, and any other revelry prior to the solemnity of Lent, during which such frivolity was not permitted. Some of the traditional games included pancake racing, various now illegal animal games (such as bear baiting, cock fighting, and cock throwing—see Footnote 1), football (meaning soccer, or games vaguely similar to soccer but with few if any rules and with most of the city’s population taking part), and mass skipping (that is, playing jump rope). We believe mass skipping developed sometime in the 1800s, with the first recorded event taking place in 1903.

What are pancake races? The legend says that a housewife in 1448 heard the Pancake Bell ringing and, fearing that she would be late for the shriving service, ran to church with her skillet still in hand and wearing her apron. Now, women of a certain age (for example, any woman over 16 in the Olney Race) run a race of 415 yards wearing cap and apron and are required to toss the pancake at least three times on the route. The winner receives a kiss from the Pancake Bell Ringer and a prayer book from the vicar. The pancake race is most popularly copied in Liberal, Kansas (U.S.).

Another pancake game that developed over time in schools was the “Westminster Greeze” (obviously originating at Westminster), where the school cook would toss a pancake over a 16-foot beam and the boys would scramble to grab a piece of it. The boy with the biggest piece was given a guinea as a prize.

(On a side note, Mardi Gras carnivals of France were a tradition brought with French colonists to the south of the U.S., which is why the Mardi Gras event held in New Orleans every year is the most famous one in America and one of the most famous around the world. The New Orleans Mardi Gras event was originally formulated with both European Christian traditions and African traditions brought or inherited by African American slaves. Today, there’s very little if anything Christian about it and it’s generally no longer a family-friendly event.)


In some churches, this date is known as Transfiguration Sunday and commemorates the Transfiguration of Jesus. However, there is also a Feast of the Transfiguration in August. That is when I have chosen to commemorate the Transfiguration, partly because the first few months of the year are packed with Christian observances but the late summer looks comparatively empty. 🙂


  • 14 February: Shrove Saturday or Egg Saturday
  • 15 February: Shrove Sunday or Quinquagesima Sunday
  • 16 February: Shrove Monday or Collops Monday
  • 17 February: Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day or Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras)


Like with Sexagesima, there are very few traditional activities for Quinquagesima Sunday itself. However, as described above, there are MANY traditions for the entirety of Shrovetide. Try to incorporate at least a few of those described below.

Shrove Saturday (Egg Saturday):

  • Food. Make Pasch Eggs (Easter Eggs). Traditionally, they were limed (read about it here) or pickled eggs (read about it here). Honestly, neither sounds appetizing to me, so I plan to simply boil the eggs and dye the shells. Write a name on the egg with wax or grease (you may write various names of God or, if in a family, you may write each child’s name), and then dip it in the dye.

Shrove Sunday (Quinquagesima):

  • Reading. I Corinthians 13, Luke 18:31-34
  • Prayer. Pray the following or use it to guide your own prayer.
    • “O LORD, Who has taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth: Send Your Holy Spirit, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before Your: Grant this for Your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake.  ”

Shrove Monday (Collops Monday):

  • Food. Make collops. Recall from the reading above that this simply constitutes bacon and eggs.
  • Shroving or Gooding. This was kind of similar to trick-or-treating, but not for candy—it constituted poor children begging for food. Consider adopting a trick-or-treat kind of practice at your church (your kids will love the fact that they get to trick-or-treat twice a year while all the other kids only get to do it once a year—in fact, it might draw kids to your church). If your church has many rooms (such as churches of denominations that practice Sunday School), you could even make it very elaborate by having a different kind of candy or food behind each door and have adults behind the doors to hand them out. Heck, you could go all out and give the children entire meals by having them go around with plates and allowing them to randomly select a certain number of doors and see what they get for their meals. As long as most of the foods are kid-friendly, the children might quite enjoy this! “I got a pig-in-a-blanket, mac & cheese, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a plum, and an orange!” “I got a grilled cheese sandwich, a mini hot dog, green bean casserole, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and applesauce!” The options are endless. Check out Pinterest for ideas.

Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday or Pancake Day):

  • Food. Make pancakes. Traditionally, these were eaten in the evening, but consider that you’ll be eating lots of other food in the evening and consider having pancakes for breakfast instead.
  • Party! Maria Von Trapp explains that you can do this partying with family or a church group. Her recommendation is that the entire parish/church take part—but, of course, this was in the day before the advent of “megachurches.” Traditionally, you enjoy games, dancing, and singing with lots of food that is incredibly bad for you (and forbidden beginning at midnight) and party until the clock strikes midnight. At that point, the entire group stops singing, dancing, and playing mid-dance, mid-song, and mid-game. All kneel down and pray the Lord’s Prayer, and then stand up and say to each other, “I wish you a blessed season of Lent,” and then go home.
    • Songs. See Footnote 2 for lyrics and tunes.
    • Games. Obviously, you can’t do the animal games traditionally associated with Shrove Tuesday, unless you enjoy being cruel to animals and they’re somehow not yet illegal in your location. But you can use any typical party games or add in some traditional Shrove Tuesday games: football, pancake race, pancake toss, mass skipping (jump rope)…
    • Dances. I couldn’t find evidence of any traditional Shrove Tuesday dances, but dancing in general is very much associated with Shrove Tuesday. As I mentioned in the previous post about Carnival, the very idea of it makes my Baptist-raised heart pound, but even if that’s true of you also, please break out of your mold and try it. It doesn’t have to be a dance of questionable moral value; it can be something as innocent as the hokey-pokey or line-dancing!
    • Kids’ Events. Lots of ideas can be found here.
    • Liturgy/Drama. A short liturgy is available here, at the end of the pdf linked above. It’s actually really cool and I highly recommend it. You can easily utilize it in any group setting or insert it into a dramatic performance.


The most appropriate symbol for this day is the number 50.

  • Knitting Pattern: “Numbers” by Frankie Brown (here). (These measure 4 inches length using DK [8 ply] or 3 inches length using Fingering [4 ply]. Since I recommend all these ornaments be less than 3 inches long, you should use Fingering.) (Note: knit only the 5 and 0. You may consider stitching them together. If you’re really ambitious, you might consider double-knitting and then stuffing them.)
  • Crochet Pattern: “Numbers 0-9” by CreativeCrochetWorkshop (here) (these measure 2 inches in length) or “The Moogly Crochet Numbers” by Tamara Kelly (here) (these measure 3.5 inches in length). (Note: crochet only the 5 and 0. You may consider stitching them together.)



Footnote 1: Cock Throwing. This was a game wherein contestants paid to throw sticks and stones at tethered cocks. If the contestant hit and stunned the bird and the contestant could pick him up, the contestant would win him. It’s believed to come from Norse times when an English plan to massacre a Danish settlement was foiled by a cock’s crow. As a result, all cocks were punished. Theoretically, this game is also the base of bowls, battledore, and shuttlecock. Shuttlecock was also a popular game for Shrovetide.

Footnote 2: Shrove Tuesday Songs. You can sing any party song on Shrove Tuesday, but there are a few traditional folk songs meant especially for this day.

Pancake Day Song (see an adorable video of a little British girl singing the song here)

  • It’s Shrove Tuesday,
    Pancake Day has come!
    Time for some cooking,
    Time for having fun!
    We’ll make some pancakes,
    Lots for everyone.
    It’s Shrove Tuesday,
    Pancake Day has come!

The Pancake Song (lyrics and tune here)

  • Woman of the house and good family,
    Please may I have a pancake ?
    Mother is too poor to buy flour
    And Father too lazy to work.
    Please may I have a pancake ?
    My mouth is dry for want of a pancake.
    If there is no butter in the house
    Put a large spoonful of treacle,
    And if there is no treacle in the house
    Give a terribly large pancake.
    Terribly, terribly.

Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday (alternate lyrics exist depending on region; the tune can be found here)

  • Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday
    Poor Jack went to plow
    His wife made some pancakes
    And didn’t know how.
    She flipped them and tossed them,
    And made them so black
    She made them so awful,
    She poisoned poor Jack
  • Plow Monday, Shrove Tuesday
    When the boys went to plow
    My mother made some pancakes
    And she didn’t know how.
    She buttered them, she sugared them,
    She made them turn black.
    She made them so awful,
    She poisoned poor Jack.

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