Lent: The Stunning Origins of 5 Traditions

On Ash Wednesday—Feb. 22 this 12 months— it’s conventional for Roman Catholics to go to church, the place a priest will put ashes constructed from burnt palms on their foreheads within the form of a cross. The ritual marks the beginning of Lent. For 40 days, Roman Catholics are supposed to surrender one thing meaning so much to them, make an additional effort to assist these much less lucky than themselves, and abstain from meat on Fridays. (Some Eastern Orthodox Christians eat vegetarian or vegan on sure days.)

Lent culminates in Easter, which is April 9 this 12 months. Traditions like baskets of dyed eggs and sweet have change into common. However Easter can also be historically celebrated by gathering with household for a giant meal, typically lamb.

All through historical past, Christians have gotten artistic about how they ate and the way they handed the time throughout this era of sacrifice, which commemorates the 40 days that Jesus fasted within the desert whereas being tempted by Devil. Some rituals that began with Lent grew to become so common on their very own that many individuals don’t notice their connection to the Christian observance and they’re now not related to Lent.

Right here, we’ve rounded up essentially the most shocking Lenten traditions, previous and current.

Pinatas: Beating the Seven Lethal Sins with a stick

The custom of whacking a papier-mâché creation crammed with sweet initially began in Italy as a Lenten custom after which was picked up by the Spanish and dropped at Mexico, the place it grew to become related to events. In response to Baylor professor Michael Foley, writer of Eating with the Saints, “The unique pinata was brightly embellished and had seven cones, representing the Seven Lethal Sins, and for those who may ‘defeat’ the Seven Lethal Sins, then you definately acquired heavenly rewards within the type of that sweet.”

Learn extra: The origins and meanings of the major ‘Holy Week’ rituals

Pretzels: Arms folded in prayer

Within the early Center Ages, Lenten fasting required giving up meat and dairy, so pretzels grew to become common. Foley says dad and mom used to provide them to kids as treats for good habits. The twisty form is supposed to characterize “arms folded in prayer,” says Foley’s Eating with the Saints co-author Fr. Leo Patalinghug. (Patalinghug is named “the cooking priest” for beating superstar chef Bobby Flay in a cookoff in 2012.)

Eels: Serving to to pay the hire

Through the Center Ages, some monasteries that owned properties collected hire in eels in the course of the Lenten season once they had been abstaining from meat, as historian John Wyatt Greenlee beforehand told TIME. Medieval monks are thought to have eaten the eels to suppress sexual ideas whereas they had been fasting.

Sizzling cross buns: Good for consuming, carrying, and what ails you

These buns with the form of the cross on prime have change into a standard dessert in the course of the Lenten season. At first, the cross on prime was simply how monks would rating the bread so it doesn’t bake erratically, in line with Patalinghug. Medieval monks would hand out the mini loaves to the poor. The English made them right into a fruit cake and drew the cross on prime with icing. Foley says superstitious individuals would put on scorching cross buns round their necks as amulets, and in the event that they acquired sick, they’d nibble on them as a result of they thought that might assist them get higher.

Learn extra: This is where the word ‘Easter’ comes from

Muskrat: Michigan’s Lenten deal with

Consuming muskrat throughout Lent is a convention that’s alive and properly in Michigan. It’s mentioned so far again to the French Catholics, who settled south of Detroit within the 18th century. Normally Catholics must abstain from meat on Fridays throughout Lent, however, because the story goes, due to the restricted meals choices within the impoverished space all through the winter, one pastor requested church officers to make an exception for muskrats—a rabbit-sized water-dwelling rodent, according to Detroit-area historical past trainer ​​Joe Boggs.

Lansing Bishop Kenneth Povish as soon as said, “anybody who may eat muskrat was doing penance worthy of the best of the saints.”

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Write to Olivia B. Waxman at olivia.waxman@time.com.

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