Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent, and when I was a good Catholic kiddie, I used to do what Sister Mary-Magella expected and give up something for Lent as a form of atonement. Or something. I am a little sketchy on the details.
Inevitably, I would give up chocolate. All the kids gave up chocolate. (I remember once saying that I was going to give up wine, but that didn’t fly with Sister Mary-Magella because I was only about nine years old at the time and she figured that excluding vino from my diet wouldn’t be too much of a sacrifice. Clever nun.)
Here’s what I can tell you about my experiences of giving up something for Lent: I sucked at it.
I would announce that I was giving up chocolate in my 9am religion class and as soon as the words slipped from my lips, it was all I could think about. Suddenly, I wanted chocolate; I needed chocolate. Everything looked like chocolate and everywhere I turned, I saw chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate.
But here’s the thing. We rarely ate chocolate when I was a kid. In fact, the chance of me actually eating chocolate on that day – a Wednesday – was slim to non-existent.
And yet, it was all I could think of. I couldn’t concentrate on learning about long division for all the thoughts of chocolate running through my mind.
Of course, I never, ever made it the full forty days without eating chocolate because the very next time it was offered to me – as that occasional treat, or at a friend’s place or at a party, I would dive straight in.
I think I learnt pretty early on that restriction is not a good idea.
But giving things up is still a big thing – and you don’t even need Catholic guilt to get in on the game these days. You may know it’s FebFast which is a month-long campaign to give up either alcohol or added sugar.
I understand that the idea of FebFast is to get back on track after the silly season of excess. But to me, I see that there is too much guilt associated with these sorts of campaigns. I don’t like the ‘You have been bad, now do your penance and atone’ attitude behind it.
Or perhaps, it’s just that, clearly, I have no self-discipline or willpower. As was demonstrated when I was nine and tried to give up chocolate for the first time.
Nowadays, I don’t do Lent. In fact the only reason I know that tomorrow is the start of Lent is because I know today is Mardi Gras and I am dreaming of being in New Orleans, eating beignets. And Mardi Gras is also Shrove Tuesday, which means that we will be eating pancakes at some point. Which I will be celebrating with flipping glee!