In which I get all abstemious

So today is Shrove Tuesday, on which people across the nation will gorge themselves on pancakes, and then promptly give up pancakes, not just for Lent but for the whole damn year, or at least until they have cause to eat breakfast in America, at which point they will mutter, “These aren’t proper pancakes… hmmph…” and prod the bacon suspiciously with their knife on the grounds that the bacon is not proper either, and has no place on the same plate as a pancake. And thus, a great religous cultural tradition continues.

But it’s the part of the tradition after the pancakes have been flipped, and the Jif lemon chucked back onto the funny little shelf on the back of the fridge door where nothing else really fits, that I’m concerned with today. It’s the tradition of giving something up for Lent that’s preoccupying my pretty little head.

I had a phase of giving things up for Lent during my teenage years. Chocolate was the favourite form of self-denial. And this year I’m going to try it again. From Ash Wednesday to Easter with no chocolate. No chocolate bars. No chocolate cake. No chocolate biscuits. No hot chocolate. Strangely, the more detail I write down about this plan, the worse the idea seems. However, it’s still better than my first idea which was to give up alcohol. That’s a plan I was fine with until I realised that alcohol includes wine. Even rosé, apparently.

 The religious notion of Lenten self-denial comes from the biblical story of Christ being tempted by Satan in the wilderness. I will follow Son of Man’s example by being tempted by Maltesers in Sainsburys. It’s really very similar. Actually this form of self-denial has no particular religious resonance. I’m doing it because my well-intentioned weight loss has plateaued somewhat and cutting down on the sweets and puddings might reboot the diet plan.

So why pick Lent? Why not give up chocolate on the third Wednesday in January, or on a random Thursday during June? Well, just because “giving something up for Lent” is a notion that exists in my English-Christian educated brain. It delivers a feeling of cultural rightness that giving something up on another self-selected date just doesn’t provide. Somehow by picking Lent you get a gentle cultural shove that tops-up your motivation with two thousand years of learnt behaviour. 

And it has the added benefit of potentially irritating a wide-range of evangelicals. On the Dawkinsesque evangelical-atheist end of the curve you can be irritated by my choosing to observe an ancient church tradition, which I’ve already acknowledged has very little to do with my personal reasons for this particular act of abstention. On the evangelical-Christian end you can be irritated at a religious observance being taken over by the wider popular culture and reinterpreted for reasons of weight loss and, indeed, vanity. And here on the broad and friendly centre-ground you can just nod quietly and go, “Oh,” and then cheerfully get on with the rest of your day. That is all.

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Author: Alison May

Writer. Creative writing teacher. Freelance trainer in the voluntary sector. Anything to avoid getting a real job... Aiming to have one of the most eclectic blogs around, because being interested in just one thing suggests a serious breakdown in curiousity.

2 thoughts on “In which I get all abstemious”

  1. Will also be partaking in the pancake-eating later. Gabriel is a world-record pancake-eater…well, probably not world-record…he can consume 10 in one sitting which is impressive from the child who appears to live on peanut butter sandwiches. At university I used to attend a proper Ash Wednesday service and then walk around campus having to explain the dirty smudge on my forehead. I rather miss being “ashed”. Made me feel terribly puritanical – not something I am used to normally.
    I have considered giving things up for Lent…I actually don’t consume enough chocolate to warrant abstaining and giving up cake would just make me sad. And cross. And grumpy. And irritable. To the point where my husband would start force-feeding me cake just to cheer me up. But I admire your 40 day fast. You do know Sunday’s officially don’t count as part of Lent don’t you? Actually count the days – there are more than 40 between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday unless you take out the Sundays…oh dear…I might have given you an excuse to gorge once a week… So – I hope you enjoyed and savoured your hot chocolate this afternoon.


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