So here we are again, plunged into that season of self-denial commonly known as Lent. Forty days of fasting and reflection in the run-up to Easter. That’s the traditional definition – set in motion when the Christian church was still young and those early followers of Christ were the poor and needy of the Roman province of Judaea. I imagine many of them were so poor and needy that a few weeks of not eating luxuries like meat and eggs made no difference; at least the reward for carrying on as normal was a state of grace (and maybe hunger-induced hallucination) qualifying them for baptism.
Our word for this period of fasting (Sundays not included, by the way) comes from the Middle English word ‘lenten’, the word for ‘Spring’ in days of yore. The modern version of ‘yore’ seems to be “Yore not having any chocolate till Easter Sunday!”
Like so much which has come down to us, the original meaning and motivations of Lent have been lost or mutated or changed beyond all recognition. Good thing? Bad thing? I don’t know – just a thing.
Anyway, what it means is that – if we choose to make use of it – Lent is a handy way of putting the brakes on; reminding ourselves we have a measure of free will and the strength of character to say ‘no’ to something, at least until a Sunday in early April.
Personally I’m not a chocolate fiend, but I do like a sandwich (in common with everyone else on this island of ours) and I am always impressed to the point of surrender at the sight of any heavily-laden window display in coffee shops and patisseries I might happen to pass. So it’s no bread, no cakes, no pastries or pies for me. And I’ve thrown in biscuits as well, which means the height of my gourmand’s delight over the next few weeks will be a Carr’s Water Biscuit (acceptable exception) and a piece of cheese.
Mrs Stay At Home Dad has similarly forsworn biscuits, decided to cut back on meat consumption (and, I suspect, liberal use of what might be termed ‘old-fashioned’ language in an office environment). Wonder which one she’ll find toughest to stick to…
That leaves the offspring. This is a tough one. How do you persuade children who have no interest in religion to embrace a religious custom? I guess the best way – if you think there’s any point of them denying themselves something in the first place – is to take the religion out of it: you know, ‘give X up for Lent and you can have extra Easter eggs and that electronic gadget you’ve been begging us to buy’.
Actually, persuading them to cut back on electronic usage is a good idea. If you phrase it the right way, they’ll bite your hand off and, in return for an admittedly quite costly trip to the confectionery aisle of your local supermarket, your lovely children’s brains could be 50 per cent less fried for the next wee while. Bit tricky this year though, given that Easter comes at the end of most school holidays so it might be tough asking the gamers of the household to ease off while the rain lashes against the windows and CBeebies / CBBC chuck out endless repeats of shows they didn’t even want to watch the first time.
Of course if your kids are sufficiently clued up they’ll get in first. A friend told me recently that her four year-old proudly announced, at the beginning of Lent a few years ago: “I’ve given it a lot of thought and this year I’m giving up broccoli for Lent.” Game, set and match to the under-five, I think.
Obviously none of this matters if you’re non-religious or non-Christian. All I will say is, embrace this opportunity to exert your authority / get one over on your kids while you still can. If the carrot’s big enough, they will sign up willingly – in blood, even. No, not in blood. And for a few weeks, at least, the parents in your household can feel like the Masters not the Servants.