Pancake Day, which this year fell on February 20, was originally a pagan festival. It later became a Christian feast day, so that the public could use up all their eggs and butter before the 40 days of Lent, preceding Easter, during which period devout churchgoers were required to restrict themselves to very plain food.
This year, millions of people around the world overlooked the religious aspect, and celebrated Pancake Day simply as a pagan feast day.
It's called Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) in France, Brazil, parts of the United States, and some other countries. Germans and Pennsylvanians with Dutch ancestors call it Fasnacht, a word they also apply to a puffy potato pastry that's deep-fried like a doughnut.
In South Korea, pancakes are traditionally eaten on three festival days: Samjinnal (day 3 of month 3), Chilseok (day 7 of month 7), and Jungyangjeol (day 9 of month 9).
In medieval England, church bells were traditionally rung on what was called Shrive Tuesday, to remind parishioners to go to confession. Housewives used to drop whatever they were doing and hurry to the church at the tolling of the bell, to be "shriven" for their sins.
The 58th annual International Pancake Day Race between British and American teams took place on February 20, when pancake-tossers from the English village of Olney (pop. 6000), in Buckinghamshire, competed against US housewives in a town named Liberal, ( pop.22,510) in Kansas.
Women aged 18 and over covered a 415-yard course, each holding a frying pan (called a skillet in America) with a thin pancake (like a French crepe) in it. They had to flip their pancakes at least three times during the race.
In Olney, the annual race is run from the market-place to the church. Competitors have to wear the traditional costume of medieval housewives, including skirt, apron and head-covering. The winner receives a kiss from the Pancake Bell Ringer or verger, and a prayer book from the vicar.
In 1445, the story goes, an Olney housewife had not quite finished making pancakes when the church bell rang. She hurried to the "shriving" carrying her frying pan (griddle) and pancakes with her. Villagers thought it so hilarious that they turned it into an annual event, which has been observed ever since.
"In Liberal, Kansas, USA, we heard of this 500 year race... when a World War II American soldier from Liberal met a soldier from Olney," says a Kansan Pancake Day website. "The event was brought to Liberal, and in 1950 the international challenge was accepted by Reverend Ronald Collins, Vicar of Olney.
"In the running of the International Pancake Day Race, times of the winners in both Olney and Liberal are compared by trans-Atlantic telephone, and an international winner is declared.
"Over the years a three-day celebration has grown up around the event in Liberal. A concert, amateur talent show, pancake eating contest, parade, community pancake breakfast, kids' races... and other special events provide for a full schedule during the celebration."
Liberal leads with 32 wins over Olney's 25. In 1980 a BBC television van blocked the Olney course and ruined the race, so no winner was declared.
Beccy Tanner reports in the Witchita Eagle that the Liberal race always begins at 11.55am on Shrove Tuesday, as the highlight of the four-day festival. The main prize is a "kiss of peace" from the opposing town's representative.
"This year's representatives visiting Liberal are Deidre and Bill Bethune.," says Beccy. "Deidre is a former mayor of Olney; Bill is an architect. Both have been involved in the Olney pancake race for decades."
Jessica Lash, a student of Liberal High School, won the 2007 International Pancake Race, beating the time set by Jane Hughes in Olney by 10 seconds.
Isabel Ager-Righinioti finished last in Olney, for the third year. "I'm always last, because I'm 75 years old," she said happily, as she walked (not ran) over the finish line.
Traditional medieval ball games are played in other parts of England on Pancake Day. Four years ago, despite being confined to a wheelchair, British MP Anne Begg took part in a hotly-contested annual Pancake Day race in London. She led her team of four fellow members of the House of Commons to out-flip a team from the House of Lords.
Here in Australia on Shrove Tuesday thousands of individuals, school, community, church and business groups cook and sell pancakes to raise funds for Uniting Care's welfare work.
Uniting Care says it assists more than 1.3 million men, women and children each year, employs 35,000 staff, and is supported by 24,200 volunteers.
It all adds up to the fact that millions (yes, millions) of pancakes will be eaten around the world on February 20.