Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten Season and a day when many receive ashes, marked in a cross on our foreheads as a symbol of our mortality.
I remember receiving ashes in school as a little girl in Dublin. We held the hair of our fringes (bangs in America) to one side, closed our eyes and prayed for a huge daub of black ash to land right smack in the middle of our foreheads.
Whoever got the darkest marking wore it with pride. The blacker the ash, the greater the heavenly trophy. We loved to compare foreheads to decide who won the “ashes” that year.
But our school girl banter did not end there. Ash Wednesday discussions centered on the burning question of the day ….
“What are you giving up for Lent?”
Our biggest wish was to respond ……
“I’m giving up school for Lent.”
And we thought we were ever so funny when we answered ….
“I’m givin’ up givin’ up things for Lent.”
Remember I was a Dublin school girl, so the final “g” in every “-ing” word was optional.
But usually we settled on givin’ up sweets (candy) for 40 long days and nights.
Now if you were lucky you lived in a house where your mother agreed with the Church and accepted that Sundays are not technically part of Lent. A little indulgence might be allowed on the Sabbath Day.
But not in our house. My mother stuck to her theory that it would be too difficult to give it all up again every Monday morning. She believed it was easier to simply stay off the sweets until Easter Sunday.
But on one special day we jumped straight off that sweet wagon. We were granted one, and only one, Lenten reprieve.
To celebrate our favorite saint, the most famous of all adopted Irishmen, St. Patrick himself, my sisters and I had a little treat or two or three.
Oh let’s face it! On St. Paddy’s Day we gorged on sweets and chocolate to honor our patron saint all day long.
And once again on March 18th we suffered through our sugar withdrawals. I’ve no idea why we thought is was so difficult because we didn’t even give up biscuits or cake for Lent.
Our sacrifices were no where near a complete sugar separation, but in stoic Irish fashion we supposedly endured our abstinence from sweets for the remaining days of our penitential torture.
To start this 2015 Lenten Season off on the right footing confession time has arrived for me.
“I confess to you, my readers, that in my early years
I never succeeded in adhering to my Lenten sacrifices.”
I feel better already for sharing my fallibility with you. Let me explain my childhood sins.
When “off the sweets” for Lent my sisters and I collected any sweets and treats from our relatives and parents and saved them in a jar for Easter Sunday. The chocolate bars I left unwrapped, but if I got my hands on a packet of jelly tots or dolly mixtures I opened the packet and emptied those sweet temptations into my jar.
Our jars were placed on the highest shelf of the dresser. And if I ever found myself all by my lonesome, staring at my saved jar of sweeties, I confess I scaled that dresser, fumbled with the lid of the jar, and sneaked out a jelly or two to sooth my sugar cravings.
Invariably one of my sisters or my mother arrived back into the kitchen before I had completely scoffed my loot. That’s how I learned how to make candy last a long time, allowing it to melt sweetly and quietly on my tongue without being noticed.
I nearly got caught red handed on many an occasion. My mother must have thought I took a vow of silence for Lent, I was left speechless so often.
My sister was always pleasantly surprised when she finally opened her sweet packages and emptied them into her jar on Easter Sunday. For some ‘strange’ reason she always ended up with far more sweets than I did.
A few years ago we were reminiscing about our days of Lenten sweet saving and she admitted she knew I was “on the take” all through Lent.
And so now, I turn the clock forward to 2015. Once again I am going to try to give up candy and chocolate for Lent. I hope I will succeed this time.
If you have any stories about your childhood Lenten sacrifices, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.
Wishing every one success on your Lenten missions this year.