Today is the day each year when Americans celebrate our breakfast-for-dinner loving tendencies with a free short stack of pancakes at IHOP, in honor of National Pancake Day. In lieu of paying for the stack of three pancakes, the chain asks that you leave a donation to the Children’s Miracle Network.
If you’re just hearing about this national festival now, fear not: IHOP will be serving flapjacks until 10 p.m., depending on your time zone. But if you didn’t already have National Pancake Day circled on your calendar, it’s not surprising you missed it: it can be an elusive holiday. The celebration normally falls on the Tuesday before Fat Tuesday, although the date jumps around. (Last year, it was held the week after Fat Tuesday, simply to avoid conflicting with Valentine’s Day – perhaps to avoid the awkwardness of cheap boyfriends everywhere taking their significant others out for pancakes instead of a nice dinner.)
(WATCH: 10 Memorable Movie Breakfast Scenes)
But things get far more complicated than that. National Pancake Day — as celebrated by the restaurant chain formerly known as the International House of Pancakes, we might add — is totally separate from International Pancake Day.
In many countries around the world, Fat Tuesday itself — which falls on Feb. 12 this year — is just known as Pancake Day. It comes just before the start of Lent, the annual Christian season of penance and fasting, which is as good a reason as any to get out the syrup and chow down. In the U.K., the tradition of making and eating flapjacks on Fat Tuesday goes back to the Middle Ages, when religious folks abstained from dairy, eggs and meat from Ash Wednesday until Easter. In many other European nations, including Sweden and Poland, the day is celebrated by making the most sugary, fatty pastries possible — usually a form of pancakes.
Why IHOP decided to do away with any pretense of multilateralism and celebrate Pancake Day a week early is unclear. (And despite its former name, IHOP isn’t hugely international: it only has one shop outside the Americas, in Dubai.) But the pancake-eating public stands to reap the benefit. Today you can celebrate National Pancake Day with the help of IHOP. And then, if you still haven’t gotten your fill, use next Tuesday as an excuse to go back for a second helping.