If you’re moving to London, one particular UK tradition you’ll be acquainted with (or perhaps already participated in if you made your London relocation before this week) is what the Brits call Shrove Tuesday. “Shrove” stems from an old word “shrive” that means “to confess,” which is what Christians are doing this time of year for Lent. As Ash Wednesday signals the first of the forty days of Lent leading up to Easter, the Tuesday before is when people let themselves indulge on excesses that they’ll be forsaking thereafter.
As with many holy days that evolve into a secular holiday, even the non-Christian will recognize this particular Tuesday that has just passed as “Mardi Gras” (i.e., “Fat Tuesday”) as so infamously celebrated in New Orleans in the States and “Pancake Day” here in Britain, which is Shrove Tuesday’s alias. Why pancakes? Because they’re made with fat and butter and eggs and all-around ingredients that were not allowed during Lent. They’re an ideal indulgence, so it’s tradition to eat them here before beginning one’s fast. And even if you’re not observing any fast whatsoever, you can still enjoy ’em throughout London at various venues serving them on special that day—they even have pancake races citywide! Bear in mind, however, that an English pancake is more like a French crepe; Americans looking for what they love to drown in Aunt Jemima syrup will need to either look for specifically designated “American” or “Scotch” pancakes at the the restaurants (Scotch pancakes can also be found pre-made and packaged at many grocery stores) or purchasing imported Bisquick at an American store!
I didn’t make it out for pancakes, but I did enjoy a few glasses of red wine on Tuesday (in the spirit of watching my essential weekly episode of Cougar Town), as I’m giving up weekday drinking for Lent. Not to sound like a total lush, but a couple glasses of wine at dinner or a pint at a pub at any hour of the day have become regular habits since moving to London and, well, assimilating into the local culture. I didn’t even take the wine at St. Paul’s Ash Wednesday service last night, in fact…not that I would anyway…communal goblets gross me out :). In any case, I decided to treat myself to this City-center service, as it’s always a special occasion to sit in peace and solitude and take in Christopher Wren’s architectural marvel. The glittering mosaics and carved stone made hazy with incense, the evening had a mystical ambiance about it, and though I’m Catholic, it gave me a great sense of community to share in this event among the Anglican congregation. A blending of the familiar with the new that is such an ongoing aspect of the expat’s existence after a London move.