• Special to the Leader & Times
Plans are well under way for 2011 International Pancake Day on March 8. Four days of activities beginning on Sat., March 5 will offer something for everyone, and special guests at this year’s celebration will be the mayor of Olney, England, Mike Hughes, and his wife, Susan.
Entries are now being accepted for the parade. Racers, both children and adults, may begin signing up Feb. 12 at the Tourist Information Center in Liberal.
This year’s Saturday morning events, the pancake eating and flipping contests, and the cooking/recipe contest, have been moved to the Seward County Event Center.
What is Pancake Day?
Many people are familiar with Mardi Gras celebrations on the day before Lent. But in Liberal, the day before Lent means just one thing – it’s Pancake Day.
The friendly little competition between Liberal and Olney, England, with women running down the streets of each town flipping pancakes, has been going on more than 60 years now. It is still the only race of its kind on the planet.
On Shrove Tuesday, Mar. 8, at 11:55 a.m., the race goes on again, with the overall score standing at 35 wins for Liberal and 25 for Olney. In 1980, the score didn’t count, because a media truck blocked the finish line in Olney.
It all started in 1950 from a magazine picture of the Olney women racing each other to the church. Liberal Jaycee President R.J. Leete contacted the Rev. Ronald Collins, Vicar of St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Olney, challenging their women to race against women of Liberal.
In Olney, the Pancake Race tradition dates back more than 500 years to 1445. A woman engrossed in using up cooking fats (forbidden during Lent) was making pancakes. Hearing the church bells ring calling everyone to the shriving service, she grabbed her head scarf (required in church) and ran to the church, skillet and pancake in hand and still apron-clad. In following years, neighbors got into the act and it became a race to see who could reach the church first and collect a “Kiss of Peace” from the verger (bell-ringer.) The kiss is still the traditional prize in both races.
Racers must still wear a head scarf and apron and the runner must flip her pancake at the starting signal, and again after crossing the finish line, to prove she still has her pancake.
Winning scores have traded back and forth between the two towns. The record time was set just two years ago in 2009, when Liberal’s Tasha Gallegos won with a time of 57.5 seconds, breaking the previous record held by Liberal’s Lisa Spillman since 2001. Spillman, a three-time winner, finished the 415-yard, S-shaped course in 58.1 seconds that year.
Why is Pancake Day in March this Year?
Even folks who are quite familiar with the famous Liberal-Olney Pancake Race may sometimes wonder how the date is set each year. Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day — all four terms refer to the same day – the day before the beginning of Lent.
Lent is the 40-day period of fasting and prayer before Easter Sunday. Since the date of Easter changes each year, so does the date for Shrove Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) can fall anywhere from early February to mid-March.
The “Shrove” in Shrove Tuesday also confuses some folks. What exactly is a shrove?
It’s not a thing, but a verb. The verb shrive (shrove, shriven) comes from the Old English verb scrifan, “to decree, decree after judgment, impose a penance upon (the penitent), hear the confession of,” according to the American Heritage Dictionary.
Shrove Tuesday is the day to reflect, to seek penance and get ready for Lent, and so we have the shriving service, the religious component of the holiday.
A complete schedule of events, as well as information and prices on Pancake Day T-shirts and other merchandise, is available on the Pancake Day Web site: www.pancakeday.net.
For information on entering an event, call 624-6423, or stop by the Tourist Information Center at 1 Yellow Brick Road.