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Monday, February 19, 2007

Pancake Day Traditions

Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday (aka Pancake Day) for much of North America. Traditionally, pancake day is the day before Ash Wednesday and is the last day before the beginning of 40 days of Lent. During Lent, it was customary to give up little pleasures. In today's society, some people will give up using credit cards for Lent, or drinking pop, or eating candy, things of that ilk. Years ago, it was customary to give up eating meat for Lent, and to use up things like meat, butter, flour, the tradition of Pancake Day began. Pancake Day, is the last day to use up these ingredients before the Lent season begins.

In my home province of Newfoundland, Canada, we have our own traditions on Pancake Day. There are Pancake Day Races, church breakfasts, etc. And just about every household I know participates in making and eating pancakes for the evening meal. However, there's a twist.

In Newfoundland, you are supposed to put trinkets into your pancake batter. Each trinket was symbolic of the future and it was so much fun as a child to try to find the trinket that you wanted. I carry this tradition with me wherever I go, and every year, on Pancake Day, I still make pancakes for my husband and me. The trinkets traditionally used were the following:
-- a penny, to symbolize poverty
-- a nickel, to symbolize wealth
-- a string, to symbolize a fisherman (if a boy got the string, he would be a fisherman, if a girl did, she would marry one)
-- a wedding ring, to symbolize that you would marry soon
-- a button, to symbolize that you would never marry
-- a nail, to symbolize that you would soon pass away
-- a thimble, to symbolize that you would be a seamstress (a girl) or a tailor (a boy)

In our house, my mom never included the nail when we were kids for fear that we would inadvertently bite it and harm ourselves. Consequently, as an adult, I've never put it in my batter. Not to mention it's a tad morbid too! Additionally, now that we have one and two dollar coins in Canada, folks generally shun the idea of the penny/nickel thing, and put in lots of money for people to find, sometimes up to $5 worth! As children, my sister and I used to consume far too many pancakes in search of the ring or the money, and we despised getting the button.

This year, I am especially blessed. Mom and my aunt are visiting me and they will be here to celebrate Pancake Day with us. We're figuring out what to put in the batter now. There'll most certainly be money and a button, a thimble and likely a ring. We will probably omit the nail and the string; we'll see. Either way, it promises to be an enjoyable tradition that I get to celebrate with my family.

There's one thing missing though: the knowledge that some day, I can pass these traditions on to my own children as my mom has done for me and my sister.

**Edited to add**
For those who might be wondering, I got $2.35 out of my pancakes.

15 comments:

Vee said...

What a great tradition. And thanks for the history of pancake day I never knew that.

I would freak out if I got the nail...I don't like that one.

Aurelia said...

We're doing pancakes tonight...and I'm putting some of these things in the batter!

And that last sentence, oh honey...you WILL get to pass it on, you really really will. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but very soon.

Chris said...

Traditions are a wonderful thing. It is somehow comforting to do something you have done your whole life. I hope for many years to come your future child will enjoy the stories and traditions in your family.

The Town Criers said...

Gil--I just started bawling reading this. It's such a beautiful tradition, and I hope you have a child to pass it along. But also your friends and neighbours. Rather than passing it only vertically, think about how you just passed it horizonally. I know I will be a day late, but I am going to do this tomorrow night (albeit Ash Wednesday...oy...but since I'm Jewish, it's okay?). And I hope more people join in and do it too. And next year, I'll do it on the correct day.

Neeroc said...

Very cool tradition, we had nothing like that growing up. I remember Ash Wednesday, because I think it was the only time we were allowed to have dirty faces *g*.

My Reality said...

I have never heard of all of the things in the batter before. I didn't make pancakes last night, but my husband is insisting we have them tonight.

You will pass this tradition on, you just have to believe.

Inglewood said...

Look forward to Pancake Tuesday every February. For us we always have potato pancakes. Love the idea of the trinkets, hope I remember that for next year, have to go write it in beside the recipe!

You will pass on the tradition, it just may not be on the timeline expected. Wishing you the best.

Thalia said...

Just a quick correction though, it was shrove tuesday in the UK long before newfoundland was 'discovered' by the europeans. And there are plenty of pancake day traditions, although I've not heard of the trinkets inside them.

Cynthia said...

I am SO glad you posted the meanings of the things found in the pancakes. Some of them I'd never heard of. Thanks so much. God bless ya!

Anonymous said...

I too am from Newfoundland and tonight we made pancakes and I put a bunch of coins, my wife and my wedding rings and a few nuts and bolts. Nice to hear our down east traditions are being passed around.

I didn't know the meaning of the different trinkets though. I just remember my mom putting coins and her wedding ring in the batter.

Does anyone know where the tradition of putting trinkets in pancake batter came from?

Paul said...

I too am from Newfoundland and tonight we made pancakes and I put a bunch of coins, my wife and my wedding rings and a few nuts and bolts. Nice to hear our down east traditions are being passed around.

I didn't know the meaning of the different trinkets though. I just remember my mom putting coins and her wedding ring in the batter.

Does anyone know where the tradition of putting trinkets in pancake batter came from?

Anonymous said...

I have to admit, I hadn't realized how localised the concept of putting trinkets into the pancake batter was until I started looking up Shrove Tuesday traditions ... I'm expected to teach aspects of Western culture to my semi-international students here in China ... and I was surprised to realize that Newfoundland seems to be pretty unique in this respect ... did we create these traditions? Or did they come from the West Country? Or southern Ireland? Or both? Or some other source via some ship's captain? It would be interesting to know ...

Iain Murray-Hsiao

Robert said...

I am from St.John's, Newfoundland and like you; I have kept with traditions. My four year old daughter is just realizing this is an event that happens once a year and is excited by Pancake Day. I have omitted some of the other trinkets as well for fear of an accident. My husband thinks I am way to supertitious and traditional but that doesn't stop me from carrying on and teaching my child some of the tings that I grew up believing and celebrating! Bring On The Pancakes!!!

ridgeley said...

I grew up with the nail representing the craft of carpentry, or a girl will marry a carpenter.

Judy said...

My Mom used to put trinkets in the pancakes on Pancake Tuesday. She was born and raised in Newfoundland and we just grew up expecting this fun on Pancake Tuesday. I don't remember any nail or string but definitely the wedding ring, button, money.
Thank you for explaining the meaning of all the symbols. God Bless.