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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday - Days of Repentance and Self-Examination

By Dr. Elizabeth Menon

Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday have been celebrated way back in AD 900, as days of penitence, a time for repentance and self-examination. One gets to see Valentine Day cards displayed in the shops even before the Christmas and New Year celebrations are over! But before the Valentine's Day there are two very important days, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Most people readily recognize 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? And now in the 21st century, it is time for saving our environment by giving up the use of plastic bags, recycling materials and composting the kitchen and garden waste.

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.

Pancake races were held in various counties in the UK and these races are still organized in some towns; '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' that signifies giving up the meat during Lent; 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 in Hawaii, Bibinga made with rice flour in Philippines, sweet bun called Semla 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; in India, Lent lasts for fifty days, starting from the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday and finishing on Easter Sunday. 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 or fifty 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, Id or Diwali. Let's reflect on that thought for a better future. It could even do us all some good, giving up all those cream buns, pizzas, cake, ice cream, big latte or mochas! Perhaps this is the best time to help the environment, by stop using plastic bags to carry one's shopping and use the Fairtrade certified cotton bags. These bags are available at all co-op shops in the UK and this is UK's first supermarket Fairtrade cotton carrier bag. I am quite happy that I took my first step and bought a few of these bags! Similar bags are made by the women from the Tsunami affected villages in Pondicherry, India.

Let's also start thinking about the poor chickens spending their miserable lives in those cages with hardly any space to move and still giving us the eggs everyday, ending up in the 'spent pile' or the intensely farmed chickens, reaching our table as the Sunday roast! It only takes one look at any of those poor specimens, to demand free-range eggs and chicken for the rest of our lives. So, battery eggs and meat from the intensely farmed chicken and plastic shopping bags must be on our list of things to give up.

I am Dr Elizabeth Menon, working in the UK. I love writing and my articles have been published in the UK and abroad. My hobbies include reading, writing, gardening, cooking, watching films, listening to music, helping environmental causes, etc. Visitors to my homepage get the unique opportunity to read my monthly write up,'Corner' and articles written by me on various topics in two languages, English and Malayalam (the language spoken in Kerala, otherwise known as 'God's own Country'!).

Please visit my homepage at: http://omana.net

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