Lent rings a bell with most Christians. It’s that transforming time each year when bad habits are broken and sinful living supplanted by virtuous lifestyles. The permanent practice of virtue should be the goal of every Lent. Every inch towards eternal Salvation shows real progress. Why waste 40 plus days of a real invitation to change our lives?
When it comes to extreme Lent nobody does it harder than Filipinos during Holy Week. Filipino Catholics to the total dismay of their non-Catholic brothers/sisters seemingly put more emphasis on Good Friday than on Easter Sunday. Real crucifixions are staged annually in San Pedro, Pampanga province just north of Manila. Religious zealots in imitation of the Lord’s Passion and death allow themselves to be nailed to crosses then raised high above huge holiday crowds who come to witness the annual event for variety of reasons. Some spectators attend in the hope developing a deeper spirituality; others come to be entertained or a chance to shop for exotic gift items generally unavailable during the rest of the year. Though the official Catholic Church strongly disapproves of this gory spectacle, monies hauled in from tourists from around the world who come to witness these gory crucifixions are too much for shopkeepers to turn down. All this blood letting originally served to remind Filipinos of the hardships they suffered at the hand of the Spanish colonialists. Another extreme Lenten practice is self-flagellation. These and other extreme Lenten rituals had their origin during the colonial era. To learn more about Lent in the Philippines search: ‘Extreme Philippine Lenten customs’ for multiple information sites on this subject.
Different countries have different customs. Consider the ‘Pancake Race’ in some parts of the United Kingdom where homemakers use all their eggs and cooking oil before Lent on Shrove Tuesday. In the town of Olney, Buckinghamshire homemakers don aprons and make pancakes. At the sound of the town’s church bell these ladies slide their pancakes back into fry pans, dash outside pancakes and pans in hand and join other homemakers in a foot race towards the village church. When they arrive at the church these ladies would flip their pancakes three times in the air. How I wish I could be there with bacon, sausage, syrup, butter, and a tall glass of ice cold milk with a cup of steaming hot coffee on the side feasting in their all-you-can-eat outdoor pancake breakfast! Running pancakes sure beats getting nailed to a cross or beaten bloody.
Here’s two from Poland. During the week before Palm Sunday Polish homemakers stop baking bread. They believe that making bread the week before Holy Week would jinx the rest of the year. A lot of ladies resume bread baking during Holy Week especially on Good Friday. Some say that if a homemaker doesn’t bake during the designated week the whole village would suffer from a long drought. This drought can only be countered by tossing the offending party cooking utensils in hand into a river, stream or another body of water. Here’s another one; tradition has it that some Poles don’t use combs and mirrors on Good Friday. Mirrors are covered up and combs are stashed away. This can pose problems if you want to dress up or go outside.
Here’s one from south of the border. There’s a Lenten tradition in Mexico where on Ash Wednesday and all Lenten Fridays a special treat called ‘Capirotada’ is eaten. This dessert is comprised of crusty rolls, cheese, butter, raisins, milk, tomatoes, sugar, onions, plantains, and secret ingredients passed down generationally within families. This serves as a meat substitute. I’m a man who loves to eat. I would enjoy nothing better than to eat this cake and wash it down with a cup of hot chocolate! Reader please search the: ‘5 Fascinating Lenten Traditions Worldwide’ to learn about other exotic Lenten customs.
They say Humility is good for the soul and sanctity starts with a healthy meditation on death. All the great saints did it and so should contemporary Christians. I’m no saint though I still retain the scale model plastic human skull my mom gave me as a Birthday present when I was a boy. I keep ‘Chester’ on the ledge of my book shelf that overlooks my bed as a friendly reminder of my own death. In 2 ½ years I’ll be 70; my death clock is ticking and so is yours. Christian scriptures said; ‘Therefore keep watch because you do not know the day nor the hour of My return.’ (Matthew 2:42 NIV).