Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, and this occasion reminds my husband, Rick and me of our early years teaching. The memories even go further back though, to our own childhoods and before, when the day before Ash Wednesday was also known as pancake day.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the six weeks before Easter, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the focus of Christianity. The Lenten period is a time of preparation for this event. During that time, people often do good works and deny themselves certain items or pleasures in reparation for their sins and to be worthy. In our youth, people gave up sweets, cigarettes, alcohol, to name a few, and went to church more often.
Pancakes on Shrove Tuesday were initially a British tradition. They used the eggs, flour, and such other luxuries as would not be consumed during the Lenten season. In Newfoundland however, pancakes contained other ingredients as well.
Photo courtesy of Aunt Marie Smith
Newfoundland mothers put coins, buttons, or rings in their pancakes, then watched and warned their children as they ate the tasty treats. If you had a pancake with money, it signified wealth in your future, a ring signified marriage and a button, a life as a single person. Mothers often put their own wedding rings in the pancakes.
Some families also put string and nails in them though our mothers feared these items. The nail signified approaching death and string, one's destiny to become or to marry a fisherman. Who would want a nail? String was soft and harder to detect in the pancake, causing a health hazard if eaten.
A dime or a nickel made children wealthy immediately, regardless of what the future would bring. A movie cost 10 cents, a chocolate bar, bag of chips, or a drink, 5 cents each, treats not common in their everyday lives. Children looked forward to pancake day, and the money and treats to come.
When I worked as principal in Buchans, Newfoundland, Rick kept the accounts, and counted the canteen money. Imagine the coins on Ash Wednesday! Rick washed them to remove the dried pancake batter. Because the children had more coins than usual, the money cleansing took some time, often requiring a brush. It was a Newfoundland version of money laundering.