February 22nd, 2012
12:06 AM ET
By Stacey Samuel, CNN Producer
Washington (CNN) - Tuesday at the Washington National Cathedral, school children alongside clergy competed in a pancake tossing relay race. It was an exercise in religious fun, the day before Ash Wednesday.
"It is the last opportunity to feast, and be merry before we enter the Holy season of Lent, which is the time of abstinence and reflection," said Reverend Jan Naylor Cope, vicar at the National Cathedral, who took part in the races herself.
Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras by a different name, Shrove Tuesday is the Anglican Church’s pre-Lenten celebration before kicking off the 40-day fast leading up to Easter Sunday. The origin of the word “shrove” is believed to be a derivation of “shriving” which means to ask for forgiveness.
But why a pancake race? Shrove Tuesday traditionally is the day that Christians emptied out their cupboards that would be filled with flour, sugar, eggs and other dessert ingredients which had to be used before observers began their Lenten sacrifice.
Winner of the first heat, flipping her pancake without dropping the disk, was 7-year-old Ellie Knight. When asked what she'd be giving up for Lent, she says "Apples, they're my favorite."
For her efforts, Knight was given a gold-sprayed spatula.
The rules of the race: each pancake had to be tossed three times in their pan, while running to the finish line. The folklore goes that upon hearing the church bell, to attend the first Lenten service, a woman in rural England was so consumed by cooking her pancakes she ran from her house, frying pan in hand, flipping her flapjacks all the way.
Typically, Shrove Tuesday is a popular event in countries that were once under the British Empire. The celebration is particularly popular in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Canada.
Canon Ralph Godsall, from Westminster Abbey in the United Kingdom, took part in the festivities this year as an honored guest –donning a jester-like hat, embroidered with the British flag. He said he’s never participated in a pancake run anywhere in the world, until this year at the Washington National Cathedral. Having his wife send what he called a "funny hat" was all he had done to prepare for the race.
"It's just about remembering that before we get into the serious stuff of Lent, and Holy Week and Easter, we live with and work with a God who knows how to laugh and celebrate and to enjoy being alive," said Godsall.
The Canon did not win his race.
But, there to defend his church’s title was the Reverend Matthew Hanisian of St Alban’s Parish. Dressed in his robes Hanisian, won his first race.
"This is all in good fun, but we're really here to win," said Hanisian.
In the end, St. Alban's took home the golden pan, the crown and the Mrs. Butterworth prize. Sweet victory.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.