The Knight of the Burning Pestle
The day before Lent begins is Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day. On this day, people would make pancakes (originally to use up the eggs and milk before Lent began) and feast. It was also generally a day in which the apprentices of the tradesmen would come together and make havoc and chaos in the streets.
Lent is a forty day period of reflection and fasting, which is modeled after forty days in which Jesus retreated to the desert in the time leading up to his crucifixion. It takes place in the forty days before Easter, and those observing Lent will fast, both from food and celebrations.
Because of the fasting and reflection of Jesus' time in the desert, Shrove Tuesday was a day of feasting and celebration. Certain foods such as eggs, fat, and milk were not eaten during Lent, so these ingredients would be used in the making of pancakes; thus, Shrove Tuesday was also known as Pancake Day. It was also a day of celebration, as there would be none during the forty days of Lent. It was also during the last week for shriving, or being absolved of sin by a priest, before the fasting began. After Shrove Tuesday would be Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and a day for symbolically washing away sin with ash.
Other traditions ocurred on Shrove Tuesday. For example, pancake racing, which involved racers who flipped pancakes in frying pans as they ran the race, would take place. Also, it was a customary day for apprentices to storm the brothels, make mischief, and storm around the town creating chaos. It would have been normal for an apprentice such as Rafe in Beaufort's "The Knight of the Burning Pestle" to take part in this; George the grocer would have done so as well during his own time as an apprentice.
Shrove Tuesday and Lent are still observed in England today, though fasting is much less common for Lent, and Shrove Tuesday is better known as Pancake Day. Various places and pancake houses will serve pancakes as part of the festivities. Also, there are official pancake races that occur on this day.
"Shrove Tuesday". BBC. 2006. 3 December 2006. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/holydays/lent_2.shtml>