Pancake Festivals Around the World

Are you throwing a Pancake Day get-together for your family or friends? If you are from the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, or wherever you are from, it is hard to deny that Shrove Tuesday can be among the tastiest days of the year. It is your chance to show off those pancake-flipping abilities you have been practicing.

Did you know that since 1445, Olney in Buckinghamshire, UK, has hosted a pancake race to see who can flip pancakes in a pan the fastest?

Shrove Tuesday (the Tuesday before Lent), also known as Pancake Day, is a Christian tradition to eat special rich foods and to use up the ingredients, like eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of Lent.

Here are around-the-world pancake explorations and other food traditions to inspire your Shrove Tuesday creations. You can explore local stores to check for traditional treats. Or better yet, attempt creating some on your own. Will it be paczki, laskiaispulla, or semla?


A scoop of ice cream and melted chocolate on a skillet

Fastenlavn, the Danish edition of Pancake Day, is full of delicious treats full to the brim with whipped cream, strawberry jam, and melted chocolate on the last Sunday before Lent. Toy cats, wooden barrels, and lots and lots of freshly baked buns fill Danish bakeries and toyshops.

Originally, Fastenlavn was meant to be the last day to feast on sweets, dairy foods, and buns before fasting for Lent. These days, kids get to dress up as their favorite characters and hit the cat out of the barrel.

On Fastenlavn, hitting the cat out is an old Danish tradition. Danish folks would gather to take it in turns to beat a wooden barrel with a stick. It was to scare the ‘evil’ cats which they believed often slept inside barrels, away from their town.

Thankfully, this no longer occurs. These days in Denmark, candy is the sleeping cat and a cardboard box is the wooden barrel. The children compete to see which boy and girl can hit the barrel the most. The winning boy and girl are crowned Cat King and Cat Queen.


A plate of food with a star on it

In Lithuania, Užgavėnės is a festival during the seventh week before Easter or on Ash Wednesday. Užgavėnės means the time before Lent.

The festivities consist of humor, tricks, myths, and food. It is often celebrated in public town squares, local parks, and homes, meaning everyone can enjoy it.

Lithuanians are encouraged to dress up as witches, devils, goats, and beggars during Uzgavenes. They also wear frightening wooden masks to scare off the upcoming winter. As part of the Uzgavenes festival tradition, fancy dressers play practical jokes on one another to make each other laugh. Throughout the day, they play tricks on each other, sing, dance, and throw water at each other. Like trick or treat on Halloween, participants are encouraged to walk around and ask for money and pancakes. Enjoying boiled pork, doughnuts, and potato pancakes is also part of the festival fun.

Finally, Lithuanians are encouraged to eat 12 meals during Shrove Tuesday to prepare for the fast.


Pile of delicious pancakes with fresh berries

Canada’s Pancake Day starts on Shrove Tuesday and marks the beginning of indulgence before giving up on meat, eggs, milk, and butter for 40 days.

Canadians enjoy partridge berry jam, sausages, and maple syrup on their pancakes instead of sugar and sweet lemon.

Traditionally, after cleaning, Canadians add small objects to their pancake mix. What are these? These trinkets come in the form of coins, buttons, rings, and strings, and each item is said to have its special meaning.

For instance, the person who bites into a button is unlucky and will become a seamstress or tailor for the rest of their life. On the other hand, the lucky person who finds a shiny coin in their pancake will become wealthy.


A plate of food

In the 17th century, Polish ancestors used to celebrate their version of Shrove Tuesday by indulging in lard, bacon, and vodka for an entire week before fasting for Ash Wednesday.

The Polish have more recently developed a much shorter tradition with a somewhat healthier diet after realizing the health risks of consuming nothing but lard, bacon, and vodka for seven days. It is known as the Fat Thursday.

Fat Thursday is observed on the last Thursday before Lent and consists of feasting for one whole day of indulging in nothing but pancakes (nalesniki), pastries (chrusciki), and doughnuts with jam (paczki).

This celebration is considered one of the busiest days of the year in Poland. Bakeries and cake shops open early in the morning to prepare all the confectioneries to be enjoyed that day.

United Kingdom

Pancake with icing

In the UK, lots of households partake in eating pancakes on Shrove Day. However, each family has their tradition of the kind of pancakes they make. It is usually a toss-up between thick American-style pancakes or French crepes.

Why do Brits celebrate Pancake Day?

The definition of Shrove is to confess, and this is exactly what Christians used to do on Shrove Tuesday before indulging in pancakes. Following their confession of sins at church, Christians would go home and empty their cupboards in preparation for the 40 days of Lent fasting. It allowed Christians to enter the season of Lent and prepare for Easter with a clean spirit and home.

Pancake Day came about by Christians using their leftover eggs, milk, and fatty foods to make a pancake mix instead of throwing the food away.

The tradition of flipping pancakes is believed to have originated in the fifteenth century when a Buckinghamshire lady hurried to the church to confess her sins while in the middle of preparing pancakes!


Omelette on black plate

Spain has a very different celebration of Shrove Tuesday. They start things with a festival on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday known as Dia de la Tortilla, or Day of the Omelette.

So, instead of pancakes, the Spanish eat dia de la tortilla, which is similar to an omelet and often prepared with pork. Although this tradition can vary depending on the town they live in, generally speaking, it involves a feast held in a local town square.

In conclusion, Pancake Day is still one of the most looked forward to occasions of the year, not just in a few countries but all over the world. Many people partake for religious reasons, while others just for the tradition of eating some delicious pancakes. It is a special day to get together with loved ones and indulge in one of the most popular desserts in the world.