The practice on the day before Lent begins is to use up all of the items that will be fasted from during the season of Lent. This day is known as Shrove, coming from the word shrive meaning to absolve, falls just before Ash Wednesday.
The period prior to Ash Wednesday is referred to Shrovetide and prior to the Reformation lasted for an entire week. The practice of making and serving pancakes on this day dates to the 16th century and according to “Ecclesiastical Institutes” from around 1000 AD “In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive (absolve) him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance]”.
Rich foods such as butter, milk, and eggs would often be given up for Lent and so these items needed to be used up prior to the start of Lent so they would not go bad during the time of the fast. Making pancakes was the easiest way to use up all of these items.
But, like most everything in Christianity, these forbidden items also carried a spiritual significance to them. In a 2015 article in the International Business Times, Philip Ross writes that in addition to an easy way to use up rich food items such as butter, eggs, and milk, pancakes also represent the four pillars of Christianity, “four pillars of the Christian faith—eggs for creation, flour as the mainstay of the human diet, salt for wholesomeness and milk for purity.”
So when you are eating your pancakes today remember the spiritual side of each bite and enjoy it for tomorrow we fast.