Today is Shrove Tuesday, known by various names across the world.
The English Shrove Tuesday came from the word "shriven" which means to be forgiven, as in going to the Sacrament of Confessiom prior to Lent and Easter.
The idea of eating pancakes, which is traditional on this day, comes from the attempt to get rid of fats and sugars, which in the old days were forbidden during Lent.
Not all cultures eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, however. In Denmark, they eat Danish buns filled with jam or whipped cream. Their pre-Lenten sweet day is celebrated on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and is called Fastelavn.
In Germany, Shrove Tuesday is called Fasnacht and donuts are eaten. The deep fried sweet treats are a great way to get rid of both oil and sugar in the house. My own grandmother used to fry donuts on this day.
In France, the day before Ash Wednesday is known as Mardi Gras, which literally means "Fat Tuesday"--the feast before the long fast of Lent. Carnival was a Christianized form of the ancient Roman celebration of Bacchanalia, a "let it all hang out" celebration of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. The Church decided to keep the popular feast before the 40 day long Lenten fast, which was much stricter than it is today.
The Eastern Church has a less extreme way of ridding your home of forbidden Lenten foods. The second Sunday before their Great Lent is the Sunday of the Last Judgment also known as Meatfare Sunday, when all the meat in your house is to be eaten in preparation for Lent, when no meat is eaten at all.
The next Sunday is Forgiveness Sunday, also called Cheesefare Sunday. On this day, Orthodox Christians consume dairy products, which are forbidden during Lent. Forgiveness Vespers on this day focuses on fasting and forgiveness.