Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Ash Wednesday, Lent, and Cream Soda

Ash Wednesday was "back-to-school" day when I was a kid growing up in south Louisiana. The previous long weekend (Saturday through Tuesday) was the big Mardi Gras weekend, with parades all day long and reveling well into the night.

Of course, as little Southern Baptist kids, we didn't know or care much about reveling (we'd find about that later in life). But our parents did take us to Kenner or Metarie to watch some of the smaller (read: kid-safe) parades.

And then Mardi Gras was over, and it was Ash Wednesday. National Hangover Day. The beginning of Lent. The beginning of six long weeks of prayer and penitence. Back to school. Groan.

In the Baptist church, we didn't make a big deal of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter. Our friends--nearly all of them Catholic or Episcopalian--took Lent more seriously, giving up this or that or the other. From my childlike point of view, though, it was just sort of a second chance at failed New Year's Resolutions. "Hm, my resolution to give up coffee in 1976 didn't last for three days ... maybe I'll try to just give it up between now and Easter, and see if that works."

My friends would give up candy, or cream soda, or pizza. My dad would give up smoking and drinking (neither of which he ever did ... ha ha, get it? It's a joke). I would give up cream soda because that's what my friend Jane gave up, and I figured that cream soda was as good of a Lenten-season taboo as anything. Besides, Jane was Episcopalian and knew more about these things than I did. (Not that I ever even drank cream soda much as a kid, but that's another story ...)

On Ash Wednesday, back at school, we'd have a special chapel service (it was an Episcopal school) where we'd all go up to the front and the priest would rub ashen crosses on our foreheads. The cool kids would wipe the crosses off on their way back to their seats. I tried to be a cool kid one year, but I felt bad about it. I didn't follow the ritualistic traditions of the Episcopal and Catholic churches, but ... well, you're not s'posed to wipe the ashes off.

So I haven't thought about Ash Wednesday much for most of my adult life, other than as the day after Mardi Gras. National Hangover Day. The beginning of Lent. The first of six long weeks of prayer and penitence. Back to school. And no cream soda allowed. Groan.

But I was thinking about it this morning and found some information on the significance and traditions of Ash Wednesday.

Being the word nerd I am, I also had to share this, which I got from the Catholic Encyclopedia online:

"The Teutonic word Lent, which we employ to denote the forty days' fast preceding Easter, originally meant no more than the spring season. Still it has been used from the Anglo-Saxon period to translate the more significant Latin term quadragesima (French carême, Italian quaresima, Spanish cuaresma), meaning the "forty days", or more literally the "fortieth day". This in turn imitated the Greek name for Lent, tessarakoste (fortieth), a word formed on the analogy of Pentecost (pentekoste), which last was in use for the Jewish festival before New Testament times."
The Catholic Encyclopedia (link above) makes for good reading if you're interested in the history, meaning, symbols, and historical information about Lent, or any of the other religious traditions that most south Louisianians grew up with to some degree (whether they were raised Catholic or not!).

Break-time over. Back to school work for me. For some reason, I'm really craving an ice-cold cream soda this morning ...

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