I was not raised religious. The few times that I went to church as a small child were when I was invited by friends and these always felt like fun voyeuristic opportunities. Once I went with a friend to her catholic church and she took the communion rite. This was fascinating to me because being raised in the South, Catholicism is not that prominent here. Later, in my early teen years I did start going to a Baptist church with my dad on the weekends I would visit him, but I always just felt like a visitor. Now my father is very involved in his Baptist church and I sometimes accompany him to services as a courtesy, but I am very uncomfortable there because they hold so many beliefs that my progressive heart finds abhorrent. Now that I am older and have a child of my own I am finding myself yearning for the kind of like-minded community people often find in church, but I am not yet sure where to find this for myself and my family. I really want to expound on this in a later post, but the purpose of bringing it up here is to explain that religious traditions are really foreign to me. Confession: I had no clue what Ash Wednesday was until I was in college and I remember having a serious miscommunication with a customer when I worked in the mall because I didn't know that before it was a capitalist holiday, Black Friday was a religious holiday. The memory of this conversation is really embarrassing to me now and was likely incredibly offensive for the person to which I was speaking. Can you imagine it?
Me: This will be on sale for Black Friday.
Customer: Black Friday isn't for months...and why would it be on sale?
Me: Noooo, Black Friday is next Friday. You know, the biggest shopping day of the year.
Customer: *blank stare* ... *eyes narrow*... Black Friday is the day Jesus died on the cross. It's the Friday before Easter.
Do you remember when the term "Black Friday" was not a marketing term, but rather was used by those of us in retail to describe how much it sucked to work the day after Thanksgiving? It used to be an industry insider term that has only recently been repackaged by the marketing machine of the holiday season. Now when I think about the origin of the term Black Friday and the fact that it probably now conjures up images of sales papers and endless checkout lines for most people I find the evolution of the term curious...or perhaps even downright sacrilegious. At the very least, it is disrespectful to those who hold these holidays in high esteem. Did you know that Black Friday of the religious variety is also known as Good Friday? I didn't, but now I will make a conscious effort to refer to is as such to distinguish it from the shopping holiday. Not that I say it that often since I don't go to church or participate in religious holidays.
Anyway, My friend Lacey was raised to participate in Lent every year and when I met her (in my early 20s) I didn't know what this was. For others who aren't familiar with this practice, Lent is observed by many Christian denominations and typically comprises the period of time between Mardi Gras, also know as Fat Tuesday, and Easter. This timeline actually can get much more complicated depending on your religious denomination, but for the purposes of this discussion, Ash Wednesday (which happens to be today) is the day after Mardi Gras and the first day of Lent. Practitioners either fast or give up luxuries or vices during this time as penance. Lacey almost always gives up sweets (sometimes dairy) and then rewards her accomplishment with Easter candy, specifically Starburst Jelly Beans. This is a really simplified explanation of Lent so if you are inclined, you can read about it in more detail here and here. I have never participated in Lent, but Lacey inspired me to do so this year.
Let me give you a little more background. I am trying to develop healthier habits in an attempt to lose some weight and feel better about myself. To this end, I recently joined Weight Watchers and discovered (like I didn't already know) that I drink way too much wine. I have a very European attitude about wine. I like it red and I like to drink it when I am cooking, having dinner, and socializing, even if it is just with my husband. I don't think this is a bad habit, but it is definitely not conducive to weight loss. Since beginning Weight Watchers I have blown all my extra weekly points on wine on the weekend and since my week starts on Friday, I have no extra points for the rest of the week, which is very demotivating. I also really struggle with doing any exercise at all and have never earned any activity points despite the fact that I own zillions of workout DVDs. I tell myself that it is okay because I have a 14-month-old and who can workout when they have an active toddler to look after? But to be honest, I could get up a little earlier in the morning, while Lucas is still asleep, and workout. If I weren't so lazy, that is. In order to combat this problem I decided to do the 30 Day Shred by Jillian Michaels starting today.
I had lunch with Lacey yesterday and was telling her about this plan and my struggles and she informed me that I had inadvertently timed the beginning of my 30 Day Shred Challenge with the beginning of Lent and she suggested that I give up wine for Lent and be wine-free during my 30 Day Shred Challenge. This will help me tackle my Weight-Watchers-Points-busting wine habit and allow me to introduce healthier social indulgences after Easter. I thought this sounded like a really excellent idea and I am feeling super motivated. Lent typically lasts 40 days (not including Sundays) to commemorate Jesus' 40 day fast during which he was tempted by Satan and practitioners feel the observance of the Lenten season brings them closer to God. I am going to do the 30 Day Shred DVD for the full 40 days instead of just 30. While I don't see my participation in this challenge as explicitly bringing me closer to God, I will be giving up a luxury and beginning a healthful practice in order to kick start my healthier lifestyle. This will represent a major accomplishment for me that will improve my life and be incredibly rewarding and I think that is a spiritual act in itself.
And in honor of today being Ash Wednesday, National Geographic posted this interesting linguistic archaeology article detailing the origins of the words "February," "Lent," and "Easter."
Do you participate in Lent? If so, what did you give up this year?