Pancakes are associated with the day as a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk and sugar, before the fasting season and religious obligations of the 40 days of Lent. Fasting involves eating plainer food, refraining from the pleasures of rich ingredients. In many cultures, this means no meat, dairy products, or eggs.
In Britain, as part of community celebration, many towns held traditional Shrove Tuesday "mob football" games, some dating as far back as the 12th century. There are 15 games still in existence – not all on Shrove Tuesday, a number take place also at Christmas, New Year and Easter - festival dates, whether religious, traditional or folk, in basis.
The practice mostly died out in the 19th century after the passing of the Highway Act 1835, which banned playing football on public highways, others over the years dying out due to less interest or excessive trouble and authorities banning the games.
A number of towns have maintained the Shrove Tuesday tradition, including Alnwick in Northumberland, Ashbourne in Derbyshire (called the Royal Shrovetide Football), Sedgefield in County Durham (The Ball Game), Atherstone in Warwickshire (the Atherstone Ball Game), and St Columb Major in Cornwall, (called Hurling the Silver Ball). These are the main 5 now contested on Shrove Tuesday.
The games are still fiercely fought, with the balls highly prized, maintaining and winning the games are of immense value to the townsfolk involved and very little will stop the games going ahead. Tradition now plays a huge part, with some of these games reputedly begun 700-800 years ago – though records beyond the 1700's are often difficult to find, with history of the games being passed down through families, church records and village life rather than through the news. Nevertheless, Ball Games are known to have taken place around the 12th Century, so it is entirely plausible that some of these games, or variations thereof existed at this time.
So, if you have a little time to spare on Shrove Tuesday, and feel like risking your ankles or more, then head down to one of these towns and villages, where there's a little more going on than on a usual day.