If, like me, you have failed to ‘give up’ the thing you said you’d give up for New Year, and have also flunked ‘second chance’ Chinese New Year, fear not. Today is ‘third time lucky’ Ash Wednesday. It’s ironic that this is often referred to as ‘a moveable feast’ because this is the part in the story where the grown up beardy man Jesus spends forty days and forty nights fasting in the desert and being tempted by a very persistent bogey man. Consequently, in (some parts of) the modern world we choose to abstain from luxury to pay tribute to his misfortune. Just until Easter. But not on Sundays. We get let off on Sundays. Try telling Jesus in the desert that. Personally I think we should ‘give up’ reading silly stories. In the Bible.
And watch more programmes by Bear Grylls and Ray Mears and then we’d know how to survive (hallucination free) for forty days and forty nights in the desert by eating scorpions and the insides of a camel and drinking our own urine through a sock. In the Jesus version it all turns out okay. He resists Satan and the angels bring him lots of goodies at the end.
We precede ‘giving stuff up’ by stuffing ourselves like greedy, gorging little hamsters on Shrove Tuesday or ‘Fat Tuesday’ which it is also called due to the fact that we eat fatty foods, not as a reference to the effects of too many pancakes. Pancakes are humble fare and this is traditionally seen as an opportunity to to get rid of the cupboard contents to prepare the home for a more sparse, more simple spell. Usually this is marked by going out to the supermarket and buying flour, eggs, caster sugar, nutella, strawberry dessert sauce and golden syrup. These products which we rarely eat at any other time of the year will then be forgotten about and will hang around sticky and unfinished until next Fat Tuesday by which time they will all be out of date and we’ll go out and buy some more. But won’t throw the old ones away.
This time of year always reminds me of an assembly at my primary school. Not Pancake Day, that reminds me of eating pancakes at our dining table in the 1970‘s. Made by mum, with lemon and sugar (classic, strawberry dessert sauce hadn’t been invented yet) and listening to Concorde breaking the sound barrier.
Which must have happened on a Tuesday. In the 70’s.
So, at this assembly. The headmistress, who we shall call Mrs. B, incase she’s still alive, (and no children, that does not stand for Mrs Blabbermouth) explained to a class of suddenly traumatised and bereft six-year-olds this procedure of ‘giving something up for Lent’.
MRS. B: So, Lara. What will you be giving up for Lent? (Her eyes flick towards my chubby tummy)
ME, AGED 6: Oh, I don’t know, smoking I guess. You?
MRS. B: I’m giving up chocolate.
ME, AGED 6: Wow, is that the only sacrifice you’re prepared to make to honour the man who (allegedly) suffered immense hardship, starvation and near death in the desert to save you from sin? Not to mention the frightening hallucinations.
MRS. B: It will be hard.
ME, AGED 6: Instead, why don’t you give up your attempts to indoctrinate young children in an arcane and antiquated custom that simply serves to perpetuate the belief that we are all guilty of inexcusable sin; obligating self examination, self flagellation, abstinence and repentance in the hope of eventual redemption.
At least, I think that’s what I said.
And I stand by that today.
Perhaps if we are going to continue to observe this tradition we should at least relinquish something in a way that serves the world; ‘giving up’ unattainable dreams perhaps? Third world poverty, invading other countries or our seat on the bus.
Me? I’m giving up pancakes. Sick of the sight of them.
At least until Sunday.