What does Mardi Gras mean to you? What about Ash Wednesday? Lent? Do you know what they really mean and how they’re all connected? Keep reading for a simple explanation that’s much easier to understand than a textbook or term paper. It’s brief and to the point. So refill your coffee and keep reading. At the end, you’ll be rewarded with a recipe for a satisfying, meatless main dish.
Mardi Gras is a French phrase which, literally translated, means “Fat Tuesday.” In some cities, such as New Orleans, it now lasts for more than one day and includes costumed or fancy-dress balls and parades down Bourbon Street in the heart of the French Quarter. It’s the time when people take the last opportunity to indulge in rich foods and revelry before beginning the 40-day period commonly known as Lent. That’s why its motto has become, “Laissez le bon temps rouler!” Or “Let the good times roll!”
Ash Wednesday, the day after Fat Tuesday, is the first day of Lent. It’s a day of confession and repentance for Christians. It gets its name from the practice of putting ashes on the believer’s head. Ashes may be sprinkled on the head or smudged on the forehead in the shape of a cross as the cleric says either “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19) or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark1:15b).
Have you ever wondered what they burned to make the ashes? They are from the burning of the palm leaves used on the previous year’s Palm Sunday. They are mixed with holy water and sometimes olive oil to make them smear better.
Why ashes? In Jewish and Christian history, ashes are an external symbol of repentance and grief. They are mentioned several times in the Old and New Testaments. There is no set amount of time that the ashes must be left on the head. Some people choose to wipe them off as soon as the church service ends, others wear them for the rest of the day as a way of exercising their religious freedom.
Lent begins 46 days before Easter Sunday, but it’s considered a 40-day period because Sundays aren’t counted. The idea of the 40-day period of self-denial comes from the accounts, in the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark and Luke, of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before beginning his ministry. It was during this period when Satan tempted Jesus.
Forty-day fasting periods are significant in Judeo-Christian history: Moses fasted and repented for 40 days after the making of the golden calf; Jews today observe a 40-day period of repentance during High Holy Days preceding Yom Kippur. In modern culture, the 40-day period is a time of prayer, repentance, self-denial, penance and fasting. Many Christians give up some luxuries as a form of self-denial. Some abstain from the daily Starbucks or Diet Coke habit. Some give up sugar or meat or alcoholic beverages. Some even take it a step further by setting aside the money saved, from giving up these things, and donating it to charity.
Many Christians abstain from meat and fowl on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays during Lent. In some poorer parts of the world, fasting is sometimes replaced with prayer and acts of charity.
Good Friday is the last Friday during Lent and it’s the day Jesus Christ walked the street known as the Via Dolorosa (“Way of Grief” “Way of Suffering”) to his death on a cross. His body was placed in a tomb and He rose from the dead on the third day which marks the end of Lent. This day is known around the world as Easter Sunday. It is a day of celebration for Christians everywhere.
What about the purple cloth? Purple or violet fabric has come to represent repentance and mourning. It reminds Christians, in a visual way, that Christian faith is made possible only through the work of Christ in his suffering and death on the cross. Purple cloth is also associated with royalty because, in ancient Roman times, the dye was very expensive. Making the dye was an extremely labor-intensive process which required thousands of tiny marine snails, Bolinus brandaris, to be boiled for days in large vats to extract the color. It took about 250,000 snails to make one ounce of dye. On the way to the cross, Jesus was given a purple robe to mock him. (Mark 15:17) The people didn’t realize that he actually belonged in a purple robe, because he is the ultimate royalty, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
In many Protestant and Catholic churches, crosses are covered or draped with purple fabric during Lent. In Catholic churches, the purple cloth is removed on Easter Sunday. In some Protestant churches, the fabric is replaced with black on Good Friday and then with a white cloth on Easter Sunday to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus.
At various times in history, some Christian denominations have been urged to abstain from animal products, including dairy and eggs. If you’ll be abstaining from meat this Lenten season, we have an easy, delicious, healthy, meatless recipe for you. Even if you won’t be giving up meat, it’s a good one to try.
Broccoli Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta
2 (12-oz.) bags broccoli florets
1 (16-oz.) jar julienne cut sun-dried tomatoes with herbs
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of one lemon
*1 lb. angel hair pasta (cooked)
Grated Parmesan cheese
Put water on to boil for pasta. While waiting for water to boil, break or cut broccoli into bite-size pieces. In large skillet combine broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until broccoli is al dente. Do not over cook. Broccoli should still have some crunch. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. In a large serving bowl, combine contents of skillet with cooked pasta and toss well. Enjoy immediately. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese as desired. Serves 4.
*gluten-free pasta may be substituted
Join us next time, for the 2nd installment in our 3-part series featuring simple ways to cut sugar, fat and sodium from your diet. We’ll share easy ways to trim the fat without trimming the flavor.
Until next time, Love and Peaches!