Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are. For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8. (NIV)
How does one start writing posts on Lent? Maybe in much the same way one gets started on any journey of significance – with food. I remember, years back in the mists of time (though it was only about fifty years ago), when I was a young cub-scout. We were preparing for our first hike, a two day affair, and our leader, along with instructions on how to pack our knapsacks, emphasized the importance of eating the right food before the hike; food that would give us sustained energy, food that would cram our bodies with the carbohydrates that we’d need for fuel, which as he suggested, be a bowl of spaghetti – though it could just as well have been a plate of pancakes.
Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, is a penitential period during which many people choose to fast or abstain from favourite foods. To prepare for this spiritual journey people have traditionally eaten sweet fatty foods.
The original pre-Lenten food was fashioned on frictilia sweets which were fried in lard and eaten during ancient Roman festivals. Over the centuries, the frictillia sweets were replaced with Italian cenci, bugie, galani, and chiacchiere, French crepes, Polish and Hungarian chruschiki, or Newfoundland pancakes with molasses (the ingredients for crepes or pancakes are flour, eggs, salt and milk which some believe are symbolic of life, creation, wholesomeness and purity). Eating these foods before Lent was also helpful because it frittered away supplies of fats and dairy products that, particularly during the Middle Ages, were not allowed to be eaten during Lent.
Lenten foods in contrast, for those who faithfully keep the fast, contain no milk, butter, cheese, eggs, cream or meat. Perhaps the best known Lenten food in the United Kingdom and other English speaking nations is the hot cross bun. Hot cross buns were first served on Good Friday in 1361 when the monks of St Albans Cathedral in Hertfordshire, north of London, shared them with the poor.
Less well known is that the pretzel is a Lenten food. Dating back to the 5th Century the pretzel was originally made from flour, water and salt and shaped in the form of arms crossed in prayer (in those days people crossed their arms over their chest when they prayed). People called the breads “little arms” – in Latin bracellea from which the German bretzel ultimately became pretzel.
So Lent, among many things, is about penitence, abstinence and arms crossed in prayer . . . now that’s food for thought!