Today is Ash Wednesday and hundreds of thousands of Christians will, at some point throughout the day, make their way to a sacred place to receive the ashes and mark the beginning of their Lenten journey. We are invited to step into the wilderness, to take time over the next 40 days to reflect and renew our spirits. Traditionally it has been a time of repentance, of turning around, of cleansing and of facing our temptations as we prepare for Easter. This time is meant to mirror Jesus’ own time in the wilderness where he prepared for his ministry. While the practice of receiving of the ashes can be traced back many centuries, at the time of the reformation many reformed churches stopped the practice and it is only in recent years that it is being rediscovered by some.
Ash Wednesday – Shrove Tuesday
I grew up in Newfoundland and part of the church that places its roots in the Reformation. As such, it was not our tradition to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, that was something my Roman Catholic friends did. Our marking of the season of Lent began on Shrove Tuesday. On that night, as was the custom, all of the rich foods found in the pantry were used up (meats, flour, sugar, milk, eggs etc) in preparation for the 40 days of fasting. Now, of course, the best way to use these foods up are in a big feed of pancakes!! While this practice is observed in many places and also by those who receive ashes on Wednesday, in Newfoundland it included other things as well.
“Traditionally the evening before major religious dates have been associated, perhaps only in playful ways but also in fairly serious ways, with supernatural notions. Shrove Tuesday is the last day of Shrovetide, the day before Lent begins, and it has for centuries had special things associated with it, in this case playful divination,”
says Dr. Philip Hiscock, a folklorist at Memorial University of Newfoundland who focuses on the folklore of Newfoundland and Labrador and the evolution of custom.
So when we had our pancakes there were other things baked into them. I remember ripping open the pancake to see what I received. Of course we were all looking for the dime!! But there were other things, all having a meaning
The piece of string means you’ll be (or marry) a fisher
The piece of wood means you’ll be (or marry) a carpenter
The wedding ring means you will marry
The button means you will not marry
The penny means you’ll be poor
The dime means you’ll be rich
The nail means you’ll be (or marry) a blacksmith
or a carpenter; in some families it means you were the next to die
The pencil stub means you’ll be (or marry) a teacher
Finding a holy medal means you will join a religious order
The Beginning of a Journey
All fun aside, whether the start of Lent was in the festivities of Shrove Tuesday or in the receiving of the ashes on this day, my prayer for you is that this will be the beginning of a journey that will challenge, empower and renew you.
© 2018 Rev. Valerie Peyton Kingsbury. All rights reserved