Shrove Tuesday (also known in Commonwealth countries and Ireland as Pancake Tuesday or Pancake day) is the day in February or March immediately preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), which is celebrated in some countries by consuming pancakes. In others, especially those where it is called Mardi Gras or some translation thereof, this is a carnival day, and also the last day of "fat eating" or "gorging" before the fasting period of Lent.
This moveable feast is determined by Easter. The expression "Shrove Tuesday" comes from the word shrive, meaning "absolve". Shrove Tuesday is observed by many Christians, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Roman Catholics, who "make a special point of self-examination, of considering what wrongs they need to repent, and what amendments of life or areas of spiritual growth they especially need to ask God's help in dealing with."
Being the last day of the liturgical season historically known as Shrovetide, before the penitential season of Lent, related popular practices, such as indulging in food that one sacrifices for the upcoming forty days, are associated with Shrove Tuesday celebrations, before commencing the fasting and religious obligations associated with Lent. The term Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday", referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday.
The tradition of marking the start of Lent has been documented for centuries. Ælfric of Eynsham's "Ecclesiastical Institutes" from around 1000 AD states: "In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance]". By the time of the late Middle Ages, the celebration of Shrovetide lasted until the start of Lent. Pancakes are commonly eaten on this day. Since foods such as butter, eggs and fat are discouraged from being eaten during the Lenten season, Christians use these ingredients during Shrovetide to make pancakes or other rich foods, such as fasnachts and pączkis. The specific custom of Christians eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday dates to the 16th century. Along with its emphasis on feasting, another theme of Shrove Tuesday involves Christians repenting of their sins in preparation to begin the season of Lent in the Christian calendar. In many Christian parish churches, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, a popular Shrove Tuesday tradition is the ringing of the church bells (on this day, the toll is known as the Shriving Bell) "to call the faithful to confession before the solemn season of Lent" and for people to "begin frying their pancakes".