Almost everyone knows about the Mardi Gras celebrations that take place all over the world on Shrove Tuesday. But the real party on Shrove Tuesday doesn’t take place in New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro. No, as anyone from Southwest Kansas knows, the best celebration on the day before the start of Lent is International Pancake Day.
That’s right…Pancake Day. Complete with parade, talent show and, the highlight of the celebration, The International Pancake Race.
Yup, It’s a Thing.
Not only is it a thing, it truly is an International thing. Okay, I can tell you are skeptical, so here’s a little history lesson for those of you who are unlucky enough NOT to have lived the dream.
The story goes all the way back more than 500 years, 1445 to be exact. The story goes something like this…
A housewife in England was so engrossed in using all her cooking fats (which were forbidden during Lent) making pancakes, she lost all track of time and it wasn’t until she heard the church bells that she realized she was late for Shriving Service. Pausing only long enough to grab her headscarf, she races off to the church–still wearing her apron, with skillet, and pancake, in hand. In the years that followed, it became a competition for the women to see who could race to the church the fastest and get the “Kiss of Peace” from the church bell ringer.
Race ahead a few centuries (pun intended) to 1950 when a member of the Liberal Kansas Junior Chamber of Commerce (JayCees) saw some press clippings about the Olney England Pancake Race and challenged their women to race against the women of Liberal. The rest is history. My history at least.
Some of my best memories are of Pancake Day. When I was a kid in the 70’s, Pancake Day was not just a holiday in Liberal, but the entire area got into the fun. The Pancake Day Parade was wonderful. Bands and floats from towns in Oklahoma and Southwest Kansas were joined by the Shriners in their funny cars, weaving and dancing before my excited eyes.
As I grew and got old enough (5th grade) to be part of the school band, I got my first chance to be a part of Pancake Day as a participant. From marching in the grade school band, which was comprised of all band students from all 7 elementary school in town, through marching as a proud Warrior in the West Jr. High School Marching Band, and finally to the pinnacle as a member of “That” Liberal Band, The Pride of the Southwest.
As an adult, Pancake Day was just as special. Every year I would take the girls to the races and the parade. And Daughters #2  both raced in the toddler races.
I have been away from my hometown for 2 decades now, and haven’t seen a Pancake Day celebration in all those years,. But every Shrove Tuesday, I celebrate; wherever I am, I celebrate. I always wish people a “Happy Pancake Day” and then explain what I am talking about. I watch the national news for clips, and I swell with pride, because that is MY hometown; those are my memories.
So, wherever you are, Happy Pancake Day.