Pancake Day Celebrations
The Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race
Along the River Great Ouse in the Borough of Milton Keynes, sits a small, sleepy market town. That is, until it's time to party!
The small town of Olney in Buckinghamshire, party starter for Pancake Day and known for its high-spirited celebrations, comes alive with cheering, music, but most of all food.
Pancake Day is the second to last day of celebration before the fasting and solemnity of Lent and Olney is the birthplace of one most unusual Shrove Tuesday acknowledgement.
Shrove Tuesday is celebrated in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro with wild Mardi Gras. But all that paryting and colourful mayhem just cannot compare to the excitement of running with a skillet and flipping pancakes as you race to church. That's real excitement, and everyone knew that one day the pancake race would not just be run in Olney, but spread worldwide.
The legend of Olney's Pancake Day celebrations starts back in 1445. On Shrove Tuesday, every Christian household would find ways to use the perishables before the long forty day fast of the Lenten season. Some celebrated with debauchery and wild parties with rich foods; others made pancakes.
And when the shriving bell tolled from the church tower, every parishioner was expected in church to ask forgiveness for their sins.
History tells us that one startled housewife lost track of time and began making pancakes for lunch. When she heard the bells, she knew that she was tardy and ran to the church wearing her apron and carrying a pancake filled frying pan. At that moment a tradition was born.
Today pancake races take place not just in Olney, but around the world. The city of Liberal, Kansas, has joined its English sister city in the pancake flipping, running fun that makes Shrove Tuesday so memorable.
Olney still holds the pancake races on Shrove Tuesday with the prize a cherished kiss from the verger, a church official. Traffic in the town stops as the ladies line up at the Bull Hotel and race, pan in hand, flipping their pancake all the way, the 451 yards to the Parish Church of St. Peter & St. Paul. Besides getting the kiss, they get a blessing from the Vicar and then, everyone goes to church.
There are other Pancake Day celebrations in England with the second most famous held in London at the Westminster School. The boys go to the playground and the school cook throws a giant Pancake over a bar 5 meters off the ground. Each boy scrambles like a wild animal to get a piece of the bounty and the lad that has the biggest piece gets money from the Dean.
And if you think pancake races are all there is to Olney, you're quite mistaken. This town has a party for every season. In the summer, there is the Floral Fiesta, in autumn you can visit the Fiesta Fireworks and hog roast and December sees the "Dickens of a Christmas celebration" with craft fairs manned by the townspeople dressed in Victorian style, mulled wine and a hog roast.
If you stop in Olney, make sure you visit the Cowper and Newton Museum. These two men are famous for the Olney Hymns. John Newton, buried in Olney, is the author of the hymn, "Amazing Grace."