Pancake day or Shrove Tuesday: How Italians celebrate it

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Pancake Day is celebrated every year on the Tuesday before the start of Lent, when we feast on crepes and fluffy American pancakes smothered in sugar and lemon, maple syrup, chocolate, fruit and more. But why do we eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday?

Why do we celebrate Pancake Day?

Pancake Day has been celebrated for centuries and some suggest it was originally a Pagan holiday that celebrated the arrival of spring, before the Christian era. Since then, pancakes have been traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday to use up foods like eggs and milk before the 40-day fasting period of Lent began.

Traditionally, it is a day of self-examination to consider which sins an individual should repent during Lent. The term Shrove Tuesday comes from the word shrive, meaning to confess.

How is Pancake Day celebrated around the world?

Pancake Day is celebrated around the world, although it is known by other names such as Mardi Gras – meaning Fat Tuesday in French. In Brazil, as well as other Portuguese, Spanish and Italian-speaking countries, it is celebrated as Carnival - which derives from the words "carne levare" meaning to "take away meat" in a reference to fasting. It is often celebrated with colourful a procession, music and fancy dress. In Italy, Venetians celebrate with a masquerade.

How is Carnival Celebrated in Italy?

Carnevale in Italy is a huge winter festival celebrated with parades, masquerade balls, entertainment, music, and parties. Children throw confetti at each other.

Mischief and pranks are also common during Carnevale, hence the saying A Carnevale Ogni Scherzo Vale, anything goes at carnival.

Carnevale has roots in pagan festivals and traditions and as is often the case with traditional festivals was adapted to fit into the Catholic rituals. Although carnival is actually one date, in Venice and some other places in Italy the carnival celebrations and parties may begin a couple weeks before.

Masks, maschere, are an important part of the carnevale festival and Venice is the best city for traditional carnival masks. Carnival masks are sold year round and can be found in many shops in Venice, ranging from cheap masks to elaborate and expensive masks. Walking through the streets of Venice, it's a pleasure to view the variety of masks on display in shop windows. People also wear elaborate costumes for the festival and there are costume or masquerade balls, both private and public.

The gastronomy of Carnival in Italy rich in fats and sweets. Traditional dishes in most regions of Italy include gnocchi, lasagna and tortelli. Nowadays, many traditions have vanished or changed, but fried pastries are still common in Fat Tuesday cookery. Spoonfuls of dough fried in oil take the shape of small balls in Frittelle or Castagnole. However, the most famous carnival fritters are ribbons of sweet pasta fried and covered with sugar or honey. These fritters are familiar all over Italy, where they assume many different names—including Frappe, Frappole, Sfrappole, Flappe in central Italy, Cenci (“tatters”) or Donzelli (“young ladies”) in Tuscany, Crostoli (“crusts”) or Galani in Veneto, Lattughe (“lettuce”) in Romagna, Nastri delle Suore (“ribbons of the nuns”) in Emilia, Bugie (“lies”) in Piemonte, and Gigi in Sicily. Is there another dish with so many names?

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