Pancake Day, Fat Tuesday, Carnival, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Paczki Day — no matter what name it goes by, the day before Ash Wednesday usually involves people eating well and getting together for a big party.
Such was the case at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in New Paltz last week. Franciscans from St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church mingled with their Lutheran, Episcopal and Dutch Reformed counterparts, working busily in the church kitchen making pancakes.
St. Andrew’s Pancake Day celebration is an ecumenical, multi-denominational celebration that’s been going on since at least the 1980s. It was started by the New Paltz Clergy Association as a way to build ties between all sorts of Christians.
According to Kappa Waugh, who helped organize the event for St. Andrew’s, that coming together of people with differing theologies is a part of the fun. It’s made Shrove Tuesday special in New Paltz.
“And many cooks makes a good mix,” Waugh said.
Ash Wednesday is a solemn day for Christians, and it marks the start of the 40-day season of Lent, which ends on Easter. Traditionally, Christians choose one vice to give up during Lent. Sometimes they refrain from meat — other than fish — and other foods. So the Tuesday before is one last party before a long period of discipline and spiritual introspection.
Fatty foods are often served on the Tuesday, because Christians were trying to clear the pantry of animal-based products.
“You have to use up all your meat fat,” explained Waugh, “so you make pancakes.”
Pancake Day is usually associated with the British Isles and Ireland, but the idea has parallels in other cultures. Rather than pancakes, people of Polish descent in many cities spend Fat Tuesday traveling to bakeries to get “paczki” — traditional Polish donuts filled with fruit, jelly or crème.
In New Paltz, donations from St. Andrew’s Shrove Tuesday celebration have long gone to benefit Family of New Paltz.
“We have fun. And lots of people come,” Waugh said. “It’s a great event to bring friends to.”
Rev. Robin James is the preacher at St. Andrew’s. For Anglicans the pancakes have a really special significance. “Shrove Tuesday is one of the great celebrations in the Anglican tradition,” she said.
Charlene Wynkoop is another long-time volunteer with St. Andrew’s and she ran Pancake Day for almost 20 years — before Waugh took over.
Wynkoop too thought it was an important event to stress unity among the local Christian churches.
Amongst themselves, Christians — much like Shiite and Sunni Muslims, or Orthodox and Reformed Jews — have sparred over issues of theology. Protestants don’t believe the pope has authority, as Catholics do. Eastern Orthodox Christians look for guidance from the Patriarch of Constantinople — rather than the Bishop of Rome. Throughout history, Christians have bickered, fought wars, separated from each other and formed new denominations.
But there are also those believers pushing for understanding, if not outright reconciliation. St. Andrew’s Pancake Day is one of those events that try to build understanding on a local level.
“It’s really a wonderful outreach,” she said. “It’s really good for the ecumenical quality.”