Wednesday, February 17, 2016

On the Wagon

We are currently in the period of Lent, the six weeks or so that fall between Ash Wednesday and Easter in the Christian calendar. As a reminder of the forty days and nights that Jesus spent resisting temptation in the wilderness, Christians observe episodes of prayer and fasting during Lent. More popularly, it is about ‘giving something up' and, these days, that is more likely to be chocolate, swearing or social media. Lent is also intended to prepare believers for Easter and the solemn marking of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection and all that.

There is no biblical precedent for Lent: like most events in the Christian calendar it is an appropriation of a Pagan festival. The Anglo-Saxon word 'lenctene' referred to the time of year when the days started to lengthen and, after a winter confinement of feasting and wassailing, a period of moderation was required if the land was to be prepared for sowing in the spring. The day before Ash Wednesday is variously called Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras; which one depends on where you are in the world but, whichever it is, it is a carnival day that is the last hurrah before a lengthy period of hard work and abstinence.

With the advent of sponsored 'dryathlons', there is currently something of a trend for this period of temperance to be earlier in the new year; but this is too soon to be on the wagon: January, when the light is thin and the days still short, is precisely the time when we should be holed up at home drinking our way through the most dismal of months. But as the first signs of spring appeared this week, it was a reminder that Lent is a call to lay down the bottle, take up the hoe and get back to the land. So, in the spirit of Paganism, I've given up the booze and started preparing the soil on the allotment. It's tough, but at least the digging is bearable.

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