Lent: costumes and traditions

  • Published
  • By Iris Reiff
  • 52nd Figher Wing Public Affairs Office
Times of fasting are as old as written history. They were introduced thousands of years ago, prior to the beginning of the Christian calendar by the ancient Egyptian and Babylonian cultures.

Lent began Ash Wednesday Feb. 25 this year, and lasts exactly 40 days, until the Saturday before Easter.

If not done for health reasons, fasting time is usually based on religious ideas.
But, why do people fast for 40 days? The number 40 is said to come from the bible. It rained 40 days and 40 nights during the Deluge; it took 40 years before the Israelites were allowed to move to the Promised Land; and Moses, Elijah and Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days.

The strict rules of Lent in the Middle Ages dictated nothing from a warm-blooded animal, with the exception of eggs, was allowed on the table.

Nowadays, faithful Catholics still adhere to certain restrictions during the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, while some people will stay away from sweets and alcohol, others may cut down on meat, eggs and milk.

Fish has always been permitted as Lenten fare. This helps explain why the fishing trade was important during the Middle Ages.

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the Friday prior to Easter, are serious fasting days, and meats, alcohol and amusement are not allowed according to the Catholic Church.

People go to church and receive a cross of ash on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday. This is done to remind people they are created from dust and they will turn to dust again.

During winter, men used to live on fat meals with a lot of salted and smoked pork, cabbage cooked with bacon, and lard- rich food. This was to supply the required fuel for the winter. Then, toward the second half of February, they switched back to regular food.

Furthermore, during Lent people engaged in a number of special customs some of which were meant to purge the soul and others to connect with the coming spring.

People tend to enjoy life to the fullest on the days before the fasting period. That's why it is not a coincidence Fashing is celebrated prior to Lent.

A variety of Lenton traditions take place throughout the country. In many places, above all in Southwest-Germany, a winter doll made of straw is burned. This act goes back to ancient tradition of chasing away winter spirits. The fire is a symbol of the sun and it purges evil by burning it. Winter was historically seen as evil since it brought a lot of hardship and worries to people at the time.

In the Eifel region, the first Sunday of Lent is called "Huettensonntag." The young people of the village built a hut from straw and brushwood on a nearby hill, which was set on fire in the evening.

There are also numerous customs for the last Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday, celebrated by the Catholic Church in remembrance of Jesus Christ's arrival in Jerusalem, where palm fronds and olive twigs were strewn in his path. Thus, the palm leaf is a fixed part of this Sunday.