Agile Mardi Gras: A Postcard from the UK – Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday

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Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, is Carnival in the United Kingdom. It marks the traditional feast day before the start of lent on Ash Wednesday. The name Shrove comes from the old middle English word ‘Shriven’. Since Lent always starts on a Wednesday, people went to confession on the Tuesday before. This became known as Shriven Tuesday and then Shrove Tuesday.  A bell would be rung to call people to confession. We still ring the bell, and we call it the “Pancake Bell”!

As with most European Christian traditions, Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day, started out as a Pagan celebration. Before the Christian era, the Slavs believed that the change of seasons was a struggle between Jarilo, the god of vegetation, fertility and springtime, and the evil spirits of cold and darkness, and that they had to help Jarilo in his worthy efforts. The whole celebration of the arrival of spring lasted a week and a large part of this was making and eating pancakes. The hot, round pancakes symbolized the sun and the Slavs believed that by eating pancakes, they got the power, light and warmth of the sun.

The Christian association of Shrove Tuesday began because people took the opportunity to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk and sugar before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. During Lent people are encouraged to eat simple foods and avoid foods that would give pleasure – namely meat, dairy products and eggs. Shrove Tuesday was the last opportunity to use up eggs and fats before embarking on the Lenten fast. Pancakes are the perfect, fun way of use up these ingredients!

A traditional English pancake is a thin, flat cake, made of batter and fried in a frying pan. Each batch of thing cakes is served immediately while they are still hot. Golden syrup or lemon juice and caster sugar are the usual toppings for pancakes. The pancake has a very long history and featured in cookery books as far back as 1439. The tradition of tossing or flipping them is almost as old: “And every man and maide doe take their turne, And tosse their Pancakes up for feare they burne.” (Pasquil’s Palin, 1619). (Agilists working with a small batch flow seem to have found a way to make this old wisdom new!)

The ingredients for pancakes can symbolize four points of significance at this time of year:

  • Eggs ~ Creation
  • Flour ~ The staff of life
  • Salt ~ Wholesomeness
  • Milk ~ Purity

The custom of making pancakes still continues today, and in many U.K towns and villages pancake races (where people race with a frying pan while tossing a pancake in it!) and pancake tossing competitions are held on Shrove Tuesday.

What are your four ‘ingredients’ and their points of significance to reflect on the next 20 years of the Agile Manifesto? Get creative, hint: they don’t have to be food items ;). What feelings, thoughts or observations would make up your ingredients? How would you incorporate them into a custom that you reflect on and repeat daily, monthly or yearly?

In the spirit of Shrove Tuesday, what does it meant o be “shriven”? Confession isn’t about blame. It’s about speaking and acknowledging truth in for absolution and reconciliation.

Will you join our Agile Alliance Krewe for a virtual Mardi Gras on February 16? Find out more here.


This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.

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