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MAIN RECIPE PAGE Finnish Shrovetide

Shrovetide precedes the beginning of Lent, a 40-day long Easter fast practiced among the Catholic and the Orthodox Christians. The word Lent is originally an old Teutonic one, meaning spring season.

Lent is a time for both spiritual and physical purification and meditation in order to be prepared for the coming feast of Easter. During Lent one should abstain from eating meat and all the things that "come from flesh", like milk, eggs, cheese, butter and other dairy products.

Vegetables, mushrooms, fruit, honey, bread, vegetable oils (excluding olive oil), nuts, seeds, cereals and grits are among the ingredients that are permitted. According to the Greek fast tradition fish and some types of seafood are also forbidden food, whereas in Slavic tradition they are usually permitted. Consuming of alcohol and other stimulants is forbidden according to both traditions.

'Bacchus' by P. P. Rubens (detail) In the old days, in rural households the last of the meat, eggs and milk products were consumed at Shrovetide. It was the last chance for cheerful merrymaking and hearty eating before complying with the austerity of the long fast period.

In picture on left: detail of "Bacchus" by Pieter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640).

Shrovetide is a northern European equivalent for the carnival season of southern Europe, which there marks the beginning of Lent.

Many Shrovetide and carnival customs of different countries may de dated back to pagan times, to feasts like the ancient Roman feast of Bacchus and the celebrating of the approaching spring, fertility and beginning of new life. Pagan customs were later assimilated with the Christian Shrovetide celebration.

Shrovetide and beginning of Lent in Western Church
Shrovetide Beginning of 40-day Lenten fast
Shrove Saturday Quinquagesima Sunday -
Shrove Sunday
Shrove Monday Shrove Tuesday
(mardi gras)
Ash Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

Shrove Tuesday, which ended the Shrovetide, was, and still is, a day of celebration with the tradition of eating greasy pancakes or waffles, a habit common to many European countries. In Greece and Russia, according to Orthodox Christian tradition, the Great Lent begins on Shrove Monday, called Clean Monday, which is a public holiday in Greece. In Russia, Shrove Sunday, called Forgiveness Sunday, ends the maslenitsa week, during which consuming of meat is already forbidden, but eggs and dairy products are still used, especially to prepare the Russian pancakes, bliny.

Shrovetide and beginning of Lent in Eastern Church
Maslenitsa week (in Russia) Beginning of 40-day Lenten fast
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Forgiveness Sunday Clean Monday Tuesday

Cooking waffles (detail) After attending the Shrove Tuesday or Sunday church service and confessing their sins, people went home to have a hearty lunch. Shrovetide takes its name from the word "shriving", which means cleansing of all sins, ie confessing one's sins. Shrove Tuesday is also known to many by its French name, mardi gras, "fatty Tuesday".

In picture on right: cooking waffles  —  a detail from a painting by Joachim Beuckelaer (ca 1530 - 1573).

The Ash Wednesday following Shrove Tuesday is the first day of the Lenten fast in the Western Church, a day of repentance and amendment. The name of the day signifies the old act of bestrewing oneself with ashes and wearing sackcloth as means of repenting of one's sins.

Lent ends on Easter Sunday in the Western Church. The Great Lent in the Eastern Church ends on the Friday of the sixth Lenten week, but fasting will still continue through the next Holy Week, up until the Easter Sunday. Sundays are excluded from the counting of fast days in Western Church, but are included in it in Eastern Church.

Note: click on the following links to read more about Easter and see traditional Finnish Easter recipes.

Skating duckling


In Finland, Shrovetide took on a new meaning after the Reformation started by the German Martin Luther (1483-1546) from ca 1520 on. In the rural calendar, it marked the date by which many springtime tasks and duties, like spinning etc, should be brought to conclusion.

Nowadays Shrovetide is more of a secular festival season, a time for winter sport enthusiasts as well as for feasts of fatty foods, although the Lenten fasting ritual is not practiced among the Finnish Evangelical-Lutheran Church.

Winter weather fun

In picture above: typical Finnish Shrovetide weather  —  bright sunshine and a thick layer of snow.

On Shrove Tuesday, children in many kindergartens and schools are taken to spend the day tobogganing, ice skating or cross-country or downhill skiing.

Tobogganing at Shrovetide In picture on right: kids tobogganing at Shrovetide.

Many organizations arrange outdoor winter carnivals with sleigh riding, tobogganing, ice skating or skiing and serving food like pea soup, barbecued sausages, crêpes and hot cocoa to keep you warm. These carnivals take place on Shrove Sunday.

In the old agrarian days a whole village, kids and grownups alike, would attend a tobogganing event  —  it was believed that the farther your sled would slide, the taller the flax and bigger the rutabagas and turnips would grow that year.

Skating duckling


Traditional Finnish Shrovetide dishes include green pea soup and blins, savoury Russian Shrovetide-pancakes. Pea soup is made of dried green peas, first soaked and then cooked, together with a piece of smoked pork shank, carrots, onions and spices. A Swedish custom is to serve this soup with a glass of warmed punsch.

Blin with salmon roe, smetana and onion The habit of eating blins, bliny, was introduced to the Finns by people of the Orthodox religion, a group consisting of 1 % of the whole Finnish population.

In Russia, blins are traditionally eaten during the maslenitsa week, which precedes the beginning of Lent. Because of their round shape and golden colour, blins were regarded as symbols of sun.

Blins are made of milk, yeast, eggs, wheat flour and cream, cooked in lots of butter and served with clarified butter, smetana (Russian-origin sour cream), chopped onion, hard-boiled eggs and Russian gherkins, pickled herring, gravlax, smoked salmon or Baltic herring, smoked reindeer meat and various fish roes, like that of salmon, vendace, burbot or even caviar.

Note: the false belief that "authentic Russian blins" must always be made with buckwheat flour, is due to the fact that in the old days, when wheat was expensive, only the wealthy could afford to buy wheat flour and the poor had to replace some or all of it with the cheaper buckwheat flour.

Popular Finnish Shrovetide desserts are Shrove buns, almond paste and whipped cream-filled sweet buns, which you will find sold in every bakery and store at Shrovetide, and Finnish oven-baked pancake served with jam. In Finland, the habit of eating Shrove buns can be dated back to the 17th century, but this tradition is even older in Sweden, where it originally came from.

J. L. Runeberg Another popular Finnish pastry item eaten in February is the Runeberg's cupcake. It was named after Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804 - 1877), the national poet of Finland, who had a special liking in these delicious cakes. His birthday is celebrated on the 5th of February, around which time the cakes are sold in many bakeries or made at home.

In picture on right: Johan Ludvig Runeberg.

Runeberg's cupcakes are traditionally baked in special tall and cylindrical, bottomless moulds. After baking, they can be soaked in sugar syrup flavoured with Swedish punsch, rum or cognac. The cakes are topped with a dollop of raspberry jam or apple marmalade around which a thin ring of white or pink sugar icing is piped.

See recipes for traditional Finnish Shrovetide dishes here.

Skating duckling


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