March 02, 2007

Giving Stuff Up For Lent

I’ve been curious for a while about the nature of human self-denial, the way people seem to want to find excuses to give things up or deny themselves things they want/need for finite periods of time. It’s noticeable that almost all major religions have a period of denial built into their belief structures, rendering the act as necessary and as important as those other universal features of religion belief in a power, the exhortation to be good, and at least one major parable/book/component which seems to have been written by someone off their face on mushrooms. It’s an act of self discipline but an organised and regulated one, and the main one in this coutry is, rather obviously, Lent. Watch campus life continue seemingly unchanged with only the knowledge that Costcutter will be selling less chocolate and biscuits, and there may be a reduction in swearing.

But most people I know won’t give up anything really hard. None of my smoker friends have stopped with the cancer sticks, none of the drinkers are giving their livers a break. None of the football team have stopped skipping training. Admittedly in the case of the smokers I sympathise a little (not much though) because they are facing a rather less temporary time of hardship from 1st July, or as I like to call it, the day we catch up with Ireland and stop poor people like me getting lung cancer against our wills. But why do so few people give up something hard? I stopped when I realised that I was as bad. And that I’m not interested in religion. But mostly because I never ever gave up anything hard… and even then I still couldn’t refrain from what I did give up.

My dad gave up pineapples one year. The year in question was some time in the late 1950s/early 1960s in Ireland. Considering his family weren’t rich, and Ireland was itself in a bit of a backwards situation then, he hadn’t ever had pineapple. The mental image of this small Irish kid giving up something stupidly exotic sums up a lot of the efforts which are made with Lent. He’d have had to make more effort to take up pineapple eating!

I guess I just don’t understand the intrinsic need to give stuff up at a given time, for a limited period. You either give up when needed, say because you need to detox or similar, or you give up permanently. In both cases on your own time. I’m as bad as everyone else at giving up things which I actually want to do… but if and when I give up the things I want to stop doing (procrastinating mostly… she says blogging instead of essay reading) I will bloody well do it. At least until I give in. And I reserve the right to give in at any time, with no stop point.

For the record I’ve not eaten any pineapple at all this calender year. Take that, dad!


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  1. I’ve been eating pineapple this year and now I feel guilty durn it!

    I like to take up pancake eating for Lent.

    03 Mar 2007, 01:57

  2. anon

    traditionally i guess lent is when you start eating fresh food not winter food, and being thankful that bears hibernate over winter so ppl dont get eaten.

    03 Mar 2007, 02:25

  3. Casper

    I managed to stop with the odd ciggy this time round, this was partly precipitated by having a bad throat on Ash Wednesday to be true. However, I got through the whole of Meta without a single one and will push through ‘til when the ban comes in (which I’m in full support of).

    The interesting thing I’ve found out this year is that you can indulge in your chosen vice on the sunday of each week during lent. If that’s not a cop out I don’t know what is!?

    04 Mar 2007, 15:09

  4. It’s cos Lent is 40 days. As in, Jesus, 40 days in the wilderness, y’know. If you included Sundays you’d have 47 days, which would obviously be too much.

    This year for Lent I have taken up being nice to people.

    Ok, I try to do that normally, but I’m attempting to go out of my way to do a good thing for somebody every day.

    This mostly involves lots of dish-washing. :)

    06 Mar 2007, 09:03

  5. cat

    I gave up alcohol in my first and second years of uni. That was very hard.

    I don’t understand why non-christians give things up for Lent, I’m with you on that. But from a Christian stand-point the idea is that whenever you feel tempted to do the thing you’re denying yourself, you pray instead. It strengthens your faith and prepares you for the massive party that is Easter.

    This year I’m giving up squash and drinking water instead. Sounds easy, it’s not. I drink a lot of squash.

    As for the Sunday cop-out thing, most people won’t slack on Sundays, so really it may as well not be a thing. I’ve stopped Lent on Palm Sunday before. That makes it 40 days and make more sense too (triumphant entrance into Jerusalem etc). It’s not technically correct, but that doesn’t bother me.

    06 Mar 2007, 11:54

  6. I gave up sarcasm for lent last year.

    This lent I haven’t bothered, because lent is so amazing.

    (see what I did there?)

    21 Mar 2007, 15:25

  7. anon

    Hi Arran, were you named after that beautiful island off Scotland that has a whiskey distillery?

    21 Mar 2007, 22:38

  8. Edge of Reason

    Late as always, but…

    Firstly – the 40 days vs 47 days thing; Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days being tempted by Satan, and then after Satan gave up he triumphantly rode into Jerusalem. That is why Lent is 40 days – it technically finishes on Palm Sunday.

    Convention generally is that breaking one’s fast in Holy Week is a bit of a self-defeating idea, so most Lenten fasts are carried through until Easter.

    The “sundays don’t count” thing does the rounds every year and is just something made up by people who have no willpower so they can be lazy and feel good at the same time, the scamps.

    28 Mar 2007, 18:39

  9. Edge of Reason

    As for why give stuff up in a fixed period rather than an ad hoc basis – well that’s the point. Leaving chemical addiction aside for a moment, any sucker can give something up for a period of their own choosing – give up drinking for the first couple of weeks in January to detox? Easy, given that everyone’s broke after christmas and no one’s dragging you to the pub. If self-improvement/detox is the aim, then fair enough, but that’s not what (for me, and I suspect most other people that take it seriously) Lent is about.

    You give up stuff that’s hard, and do it at (and for) the time dictated by Lent. So maybe this year it’ll coincide with your mate’s 21st, or a family wedding, or a promotion in work, or you getting dumped – whatever is thrown in your direction you have to adapt to, or you fail. That’s what makes it a true exercise in willpower – not so much giving up when you want to, as giving up when you really don’t.

    28 Mar 2007, 18:52

  10. RE: anon poster above, yes I was named after the island.

    18 Jun 2007, 16:11


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