Christians across the world go to church marking Palm Sunday to celebrate Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem to a heroic welcome and the start of Holy Week. It is the most important and holiest week of the year for Christians, and it is one of solemnity and glory.
It also marks the final week of “giving up” things, with Good Friday being the last day of abstinence and fasting (the first is Ash Wednesday which begins the Lenten season). During this time Christians go without certain things to honor the memory of Jesus and his time spent in the wilderness fasting and praying.
As a child I was always compelled to give up the obvious things – candy, cookies, and other treats. I also vividly recall that we did without meat on Fridays, and this was never seen as something negative in my house. In those days Mom would pick us up from school on Friday afternoons and we would go directly to the local fish store, where we would usually wait in line to pick up the makings of that evening’s dinner.
Sadly, I cannot even find a “fish store” in my neighborhood anymore. These days if I want the kind of attention (as to type of fish, weight, or cooking instructions) my mother got years ago, I will have to go to my big supermarket, wait on line at the fish counter, and hope I get someone who knows what he/she is doing. In my store there is also an adjacent sushi counter, where a Japanese chef seems to be always slicing and dicing things and serving people (I don’t eat sushi or anything else that is not thoroughly cooked).
My children have no idea what a fish store is, nor do they have experience with going to a butcher (also sadly gone), or a local drug store (unless you count CVS or Rite Aid as something “local”). These things are as foreign to them as a phone booth or a Sony Walkman, but then I digress.
I used to look forward going to the fish store with Mom. While waiting on line, I gawked at all these huge fish hanging from hooks coming down from the ceiling. The sign “fresh caught” in the window always made me think that those men in white blood-splattered aprons went out on some boat, fought and caught these huge monsters, and brought them in for display. Also the counter was high and set atop large glass tanks filled with ice and fish, their eyes seemingly magnified as they were pressed up against the glass and ready to be in Mom’s frying pan that night. Then there was the smell of the place – it seemed as if I had walked onto a fisherman’s wharf or a fishing boat. Also, there always were the fish being fried that were sizzling on the stoves off to the side of the counter that added to the odd fecund aroma of the place.
These days we have been having fish on Fridays – and my kids are not as fond of it as I was. They don’t like the “smell” or the odor that lingers in the house after cooking. I have stumbled upon frozen fish sticks as the best thing for them – apparently if I tell them that they are eating chicken fingers and provide copious amounts of ketchup, they don’t know the difference.
My kids have been good about giving up other things though. They have given up toys, electronics, and sweets in various combinations over the weeks of Lent. They have also been ready to do extra chores like folding wash, vacuuming, and dusting. They do understand why they are doing it, and there is a feeling of satisfaction that they are not only giving things up because they’re supposed to but because they want to do it.
Lent is something like a second chance at all those New Year’s resolutions. All the things we promised to give up on January 1st – and were back to indulging in by January 2nd – are out there to be revisited. This year I gave up my most favorite and delicious indulgence – ice cream. Not having it all these weeks has made me realize that I don’t have to go back to eating it on Easter Sunday or perhaps ever again, but I probably will because passing any Carvel store has induced hunger pangs and memories of old Tom Carvel saying, “Cookie Pus” in his TV commercials.
I remember other kids complaining about Lent years ago, about not liking fish or giving up sweets, but I never felt that way. As I have gotten older I have appreciated Lent more each year because it reminds me that there are so many who do without all year long, and that it is a way of remembering. It also is a good thing for my children to recognize how it feels not to have something they like and understand that there are people all over the world who are hungry, thirsty, and in need all the time. This makes the idea of almsgiving necessary and compelling not just 40 days a year but all year long – my daughter will volunteer at the local senior citizen’s center every Sunday to accomplish this.
As Lent ends there is the joy that Easter brings, but there is also the memory of what we have done in the 40 previous days. I know my kids will happily go back to their iPods and iPads, not miss in any way folding laundry or vacuuming, and long for a fish-free odor in our kitchen. But having grown used to fish on Friday, I’m not certain that I want to relinquish that weekly meal that brings back great memories of long ago in that fish store holding Mom’s hand and imagining the exploits of those men who bravely brought that dinner to our table. I think I want to hold on to that for a while longer at least.
Photo credits: the-works.net, salemquincy .org, zekosgrill.com[amazon template=iframe image&asin= B00QU31YVA]