Shrove Tuesday refers to the day before Ash Wednesday, and it is the last day before the beginning of Lent. Though the word "shrove" comes from the same base as shrive or shriven, meaning to repent or to have repented, this day is not typically associated with repentance. Instead, it is usually a day for great and gluttonous celebrations that will use up cooking ingredients to make treats many will forgo during Lent.
There are different names for Shrove Tuesday in different cultures. In the US and in Latin American countries, it is better known as Mardi Gras. Celebrations are often extreme, with many indulging in lots of fancy treats, watching carnival parades, or merely taking to the streets in an joyful party atmosphere.
Most in England, Ireland, and Australia celebrate it as Pancake Day. Pancakes are enjoyed and eaten with sweet toppings to use up luxury ingredients like eggs and flour that might be given up during Lent. Like Mardi Gras, many people who do not observe Lent join in the celebrations because they are simply fun.
One Shrove Tuesday tradition in the UK is the Pancake Races, which have been held for over 500 years. Women carry thin pancakes in frying pans and must race to the finish, flipping the cakes as they go. The winner is the first to the finish line with a pancake that is not burnt.
Other places have varied traditions that involve eating special foods on this day. In Sweden, for example, the day is known as Fat Tuesday, and it is tradition for people to eat a pastry called semla, which is filled with cream. The Pennsylvania Dutch and people in countries like Lithuania, Germany, Austria, and Slovenia all enjoy indulging in doughnuts on this day.
The key to celebrating in style is to indulge — it's not a day to count calories. In the past, it has been joked that many people are well prepared for fasting on Ash Wednesday because they have eaten or drunk themselves sick the day before.
The date of Shrove Tuesday changes yearly. It is essentially 47 days before Easter, which falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring or March equinox. In Eastern Orthodox Churches, it is always celebrated on a different day than those who follow the Easter date set by the Gregorian calendar. As a result, Greeks or some in former Soviet Union Countries may celebrate this day about a week before most other European, Latin American, and North American countries do.