I didn’t have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday this year. I tried desperately to make a couple but was never really blessed with the patience to cook much beyond a two minute egg. The next day at the radio station, (Ash Wednesday), quite a number of people, colleagues and listeners, mentioned their family evening meal the night before and how children especially relished the routine cake-baking event almost as much as the pancakes themselves. Much in the same way as we all remember not to forget Saint Valentine’s Day, Easter or Christmas. Perhaps it’s our inherent need to give rather than to receive that keeps us on our ritualistic toes. Local news on T.V around the UK was filled with feel-good stories of pancake races around our cities, towns and villages. Yet Shrove Tuesday heralds the start of Lent which is the more serious aspect of the Christian message. There has been much talk in the media of late as to the religious identity of the ‘new Britain’ yet I can’t imagine our country without the many family occasions and traditions that have their origins in Christianity, and which bring back so many happy family memories. All other faiths have their traditions too which, invariably, involve family and community participation, and as much as many would target or criticize any religious group or faith, I would always applaud any-thing or any ethos that can bring families or groups of people together in the name of love and peace, regardless of the occasion, motivation, ceremony or ritual. Yet even the Christian calendar is a kind of pick n’ mix of what suits us best as a celebratory society. We have our Advent calendars prior to the celebration of Christmas. Epiphany and Pre-Lent are overlooked as we skip to a kind of understanding of Lent itself.
We then tend to put the Easter Triduum under the heading of Easter as we then consign Eastertide, Ascentiontide and Pentecost to the back-burner, never to see the light of day except in specific places of worship. This is of course an over simplification: a generalisation for the sake of expedition. I don’t think I’ve ever deprived myself of anything during the forty days of Lent, a representation of the time that Jesus was to have spent in the desert, enduring the temptations of the Devil and fasting, before being certain of his role and ministry. Yet, long before ‘no smoking day’ was even muted many people chose Lent as the time to quit many different things as another reprsatation of fasting or deprivation. ‘I will stop eating chocolate for Lent’ said a friend of mine which made me smile, given that Lent is a prelude to Easter at which time we tend to over indulge on chocolate eggs, a representation of the end to fasting and the rolling away of the stone. The spirit of Lent can be used at any time of year for the benefit of others: losing weight for charity is a corker!