Lent: days of penitence, a time for repentance and self-examination
by Elizabeth Menon

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Days of penitence, a time for repentance and self-examination are here and Christians all over the globe celebrate Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Most people readily recognise Shrove Tuesday as Pancake Day when one can feast on heaps of pancakes laced with caster sugar and lemon juice! But do we know the history of these two days? Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday have been celebrated way back in AD 900, as days of penitence, a time for repentance and self-examination.

Shrove Tuesday is the day before Lent starts: ‘Shrove’ is derived from the word, ‘Shrive’: the ritual of shriving during which the Christians confessed their sins and received absolution. It is also a time for celebration as it was the day before Ash Wednesday, when Lent started. They were forbidden to eat meat, fish, egg, milk and butter during the forty days of Lent and therefore, the ideal thing to do were to use up all these items and have a big feast. They made a batter adding some flour to the mix of egg and milk and out came the delicious pancakes, with a bit of help from the butter that was in the house. Stuffed pancakes would have been made, to finish the rest of the ‘Forbidden’ food items.

Shrove Tuesday is celebrated in different parts of the world, but with a style of their own. In the UK, we call it the Pancake Day and make pancakes laced with lemon juice and caster sugar; the pancake race in Buckinghamshire was quite famous! It is Mardi Gras in France, Canada and parts of the US and it is also called Tuesday of carnival; coins, rings and other objects are baked into the pancakes and the lucky ones are the recipients of these items! Different versions of the pancakes are made in different countries:

Doughnuts called Malasadas made with flour, eggs, sugar and yeast in Hawaii:

Dessert called Bebinca made with rice flour, eggs,sugar and coconut milk in Goa:

sweet bun called Semla made with flour, eggs,yeast and sugar in Sweden:

And I am sure there are multitude of other versions all over the world.

Ash Wednesday is the day Lent starts in the Western world; it is forty days before Good Friday (excluding Sundays) and is a day of repentance and self-examination. Christians in India follow the fifty days for lent, starting from the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday. The faithful Christians believe that it is the day that they have to repent their sins and realize that Jesus went to the cross for their sins.

Sign of a cross is made on the forehead with the ashes, made by burning the blessed palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday; olive oil or holy water is used to mix the ashes. Ashes represent remorse, repentance and mourning. The forty days of Lent reminds the Christians of the forty days Jesus retreated into the wilderness and fasted for forty days. The faithful followers believe that when they follow the Lent for forty days, they are joining Him on His retreat. Some believe that the forty days represent the number of days the Israelites spent in the desert and they also consider the ashes as a symbol of mourning, remorse and repentance.

It does not matter which theory we wish to believe, as long as we take some time for self examination and correct the things we can amidst all the days of celebrations, be it Christmas, Easter, Onam, Vishu, Eid or Diwali. Let’s reflect on that thought for a better future. It is also time to make an effort to improve our body and spirit, by finding time for yoga and healthy living. It could even do us all some good, giving up all those cream buns, pizzas, cake, ice cream, big latte or mochas, and red meat!

Perhaps this is the best time to help the environment and stop using plastic bags to carry one’s shopping and use the ‘Fairtrade certified cotton bags’; “An amount equivalent to the cost of the energy needed to produce and transport these bags are donated to help environmental projects in Pondicherry”. These bags are available at all co-op shops in the UK and this is UK’s first supermarket Fairtrade cotton carrier bag: Co-op Fairtrade.
Chicken Out! CampaignSimilar bags are made in the Tsunami affected villages in Pondicherry: Smallsteps.in.

Let’s also start thinking about using only free range chickens and eggs and help those Chickens Out!

“Happy Lent”!

© E Menon



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