Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day or Mardi GrasMardia Gras in Sweden

You probably know that Shrove Tuesday is also sometimes called Pancake Day or Mardi Gras, but how many names do you know for it in Swedish? The Swedes have at least five names, all of them connected with food!

Before looking at Shrove Tuesday in Sweden it might be helpful to have a look at the origins of Lent and Shrove Tuesday.

Facts about Lent

1. Lent is the time when Christians prepare for Easter, by thinking of things they have done wrong.
2. It was a time for spring-cleaning lives, as well as homes.
3. Lent was also a time when Christians in the Middle Ages would fast.
4. Lent ends at Easter when Christians remember the execution of Jesus and then celebrate his rising from the dead.
5. The period of fasting lasts for 40 days, excluding Sundays because for Christians they are always days of celebration.
6. The day before Lent is known as Shrove Tuesday.

Lent in 2016

The calendar below highlights the 40 days of Lent so that Shrove Tuesday is on Tuesday 9th February March and Easter Sunday is on March 27th.

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28


MARCH 2016
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Other dates for Shrove Tuesday

Because the date of Easter varies so does Shrove Tuesday as shown below:

2017 — 28 February

2018 — 13 February

2019 — 5 March

Origin of the term Shrove Tuesday

The name Shrove comes from the old word "shrive" which means to confess. On Shrove Tuesday, in the Middle Ages, people used to confess their sins so that they were forgiven before the season of Lent began.

Swedish names for Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday is normally called fettisdagen in Swedish. If translated literally it means The Fat Tuesday. It is also known as:

• semmeldagen (semlor day),
• fläsktisdagen (pork Tuesday),
• smörtisdagen (butter Tuesday),
• vittisdagen (white Tuesday). (Vittisdagen gets its name because of the use of white flour on fettisdagen.)


Semlor (Lentent buns) on a plate

Traditionally, rather than eating pancakes on fettisdagen, Swedes eat a bun called a semla, a delicious cardamom scented bun filled with mandelmassa (almond paste, a bit like marzipan) and whipped cream. (Semlor is the plural form of semla.)

Now of course, I quite like Swedes. They often amuse me and they all speak English which makes interactions with the natives so much easier. They even have quite a good sense of humour so it is easy teasing them about some of Sweden's strange ways.

But, they really have no self-discipline. Quite obviously semlor should really only be eaten on fettisdagen, but Swedes seem to start eating them as soon as Christmas is over. Tut tut... Their enthusiasm for the rituals of festivals and the associated food knows few bounds.

How many?

The cover of Aftonbladet, a Swedish newspaper

According to Aftonbladet, Sweden's evening newspaper, Swedes bakers sell 2 million semlor on fettisdagen and 40 million during the year. Add in home-cooked semlor and it is clear that the average Swede must be eating at least five a year.

Originally Swedes were only suppose to eat the 500-Calorie bombs on fettisdagen, but after the Protestant Reformation the rules on fasting were relaxed and Swedes were given the green light to eat them every Tuesday from fettisdagen until Easter. Nowadays even the slimest Swedes seem to start eating them as soon as Christmas is over.

Like to know more about semlor?

Find out:
• How semla got its name,
• Other names for semlor,
• About the king who died from eating semlor,
• The difference between semlor and hetvägg,
• Why semlor are filled with lashings of cream.
Click here to find out more

Our recipe

A collage of photos showing how to make Swedish semlor

Our recipe for semlor is by Maia Brindley Nilsson, from, and has lots of helpful step-by-step photos. It uses readily available "instant" dried yeast and, although you can substitute marzipan, they are best made with mandelmassa (almond paste) which you can make yourself using our recipe, buy from specialist shops or order online. Semlor make a superb change from traditional pancakes so it is well worth making some for friends and family when fettisdagen comes round. More…

John Duxbury

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