In many Christian cultures, especially the catholic ones, the tradition is to give something up for Lent. I remember learning in school about the history behind carnival – that it meant farewell to meat and that people in the old times would not eat meat before Easter. Shrove or Fat Tuesday marks the day when Lent begins, and carnivals** are celebrated in Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans, Venice, as well as in the Netherlands and Belgium where carnival is even the name for the school holidays in February. [In Sweden the school holidays are called the Sport holidays as you are supposed to do winter sports such as skiing etc]
However, I didn’t realise that this tradition of giving something up for Lent, was still done, until I met two Irish girls in Brussels who told me that they were giving up chocolate & sweets for the 40 days before Easter. I found the tradition quite curious and almost exotic! In Sweden, as already mentioned this week, we eat cream buns on Shrove Tuesday, and frankly – most people continue eating those more or less regularly until Easter… which is of course completely contrary to the idea of giving something up!!
I discovered this old café / bakery in Old San Juan, where they sell some kind of traditional Lent pastries filled with sardines and veggies, every Friday during Lent (i.e Cuaresma in Spanish) [see the sign in the window].
We were discussing this tradition the other evening; two secular Swedish protestants and a Cypriot orthodox (unfortunately the Spanish catholic was missing, he might have been able to give us valuable in-put!) and together we knew a number of people who would give up chocolate (the Irish girls), kebabs (English guy) and alcohol (Austrian girl) etc… Swedish P (not me, our guest who is a guy!) asked why would you do this to yourself? Maybe it is like a New Year’s resolution, something that you want to prove to yourself, maybe it’s an occasion for some “cleansing” or maybe it could actually be… shock and horror, because of religious reasons!??
*) I googled the question and there was actually a whole discussion on the subject on yahoo.com and even a web-page dedicated to the issue. And personally, I didn’t of course give anything up!
**) Carnivals are not only celebrated in February around Lent, the Londoners celebrate the Notting Hill Carnival in August and the university students in Lund celebrate Lundakarnevalen every 4 years in May.