The day before Ash Wednesday has many different names and traditions, to include Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras. However, there is one fairly recent pre-Ash Wednesday tradition that actually takes place right here in Kansas. It began in England with the observation of Shrove Tuesday. This tradition is what we know today as the International Pancake Day Race.
In England, the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday form a three-day observation of Confession, self-examination, and repentance known as the Shrovetide. Not only is it a period of repentance, but it is a period of feasting and celebration.
According to legend, in 1445, while preparing her family’s pancakes, a housewife in Olney, Buckinghamshire, England heard the bells of her church ringing, signaling the beginning of Confessions on Shrove Tuesday, the final day before Ash Wednesday. Upon hearing the bells ringing and having just poured the batter, she grabbed her scarf and the skillet and ran to church, flipping the pancake along the way. The women of Olney took to racing each year on Shrove Tuesday.
In 1950, Time Magazine published an editorial about the long-held English tradition. The town of Liberal, Kansas responded by challenging Olney to a friendly annual trans-Atlantic competition. The women are to wear an apron and a scarf. They flip the pancake once at the beginning of the race and again at the finish line. There is also a children’s race.
Liberal currently holds the edge with 36 wins over Olney’s 28 (they won this year).
Here’s a quick video on the 2012 race…