Mothering Sunday

This coming Sunday, the 11th March, is Mother's Day (also known as Mothering Sunday) in the UK and Ireland.

There seem to be different definitions of when Mother's Day occurs around the world. In the UK and Ireland (and also Nigeria) it always happens on the Fourth Sunday of Lent – also known as Laetare Sunday.

Laetare Sunday (or Refreshment Sunday) is traditionally the one Sunday in Lent when you're meant to relax your Lenten austerity – and also your Lenten fast – so stock up on that chocolate and booze now! And in church it's one of the two Sundays in the year when the priests wear rose (or pink) coloured vestments.

The reason it's called Mothering Sunday seems to date back to a 16th-century tradition of Christians visiting their mother church annually on Laetare Sunday. Children would return to their home towns, and as such to their families, so there would be some focus on returning to their mothers.

However it wasn't until World War II that US soldiers brought the entirely secular celebration of mothers on Mother's Day to the UK – and as such the two traditions merged.

One of the traditions I'm personally very fond of is the making of simnal cake on Laetare Sunday, a light fruit cake with lots and lots of marzipan in it, and then decorated on top with 11 marzipan balls – to symbolise the 12 apostles (minus Judas).

How many days are in Lent?

Lent is the penitential season of fasting and prayer that runs from Ash Wednesday until just before Easter.

The problem is that the length of Lent doesn't quite add up. It's often described as being 40 days long, but if you count the number of days between Ash Wednesday and the day before Easter Sunday, it's 46 days.

The church says "Ah, but you don't count Sundays, because you don't need to fast on Sundays". And by removing the 6 Sundays from the 46 days, you do indeed get 40 days. But then how is that meant to correlate with the time that Jesus was fasting in the wilderness? Did he have a day off on Sundays?

And what about the fact that Jesus was meant to return to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, a full week before Easter? That's 40 days (including Sundays), but that's not what any Christian denomination teaches as Lent. The Catholic church says that Lent runs until Holy Thursday or Good Friday, and the Protestants says it runs until Holy Saturday!

Lent Begins

On this day – Ash Wednesday – every year I make some kind of public proclamation about what I’m planning to give up (or take up) for Lent.

Last year it was booze and caffeine – and I managed to avoid both for the full six and a half weeks. The year before I gave up alcohol and also went on a diet – the diet actually extending past the end of Lent for 6 months in all; helping me lose a total of almost 5 stone in weight.

This year, because my weight has been gradually creeping up over the last year or so, I’m going to go back on the diet. I’ll be using an online food diary called nutra check to record everything I eat and drink over the next 46 days, and will be limiting myself to 2000 calories a day (which is a reasonable target for a guy my size). I’ll also do 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. And the plan is to lose at least a stone in weight before Easter – and hopefully more.

I’m not giving up alcohol as such, but I’ll be cutting right back. After all, booze can contain quite a lot of calories, and I’ll be wanting to reserve most (if not all) of my daily calorie allowance for food. I’m also not giving up on the caffeine either, as the withdrawal gives me awful headaches, and I get very sleeping – and I just don’t need any of that at the moment.

I am, however, considering a new thing – but I’m not sure whether I’ll manage it. I was thinking of going vegetarian for one day a week, just to see if cutting down on my meat intake will make me more healthy. I just don’t know at the moment whether my culinary skills are good enough to be able to prepare tasty and nutritious vegetarian meals.

Give it up for Lent

With Ash Wednesday fast approaching next week, I’m trying to decide on what to give up for Lent.

In recent years I’ve given up alcohol and caffeine – both of which have been quite hard to do, particularly the caffeine one. And a few years back I took up something for Lent: being completely honest with people. But that one turned out to be a bit of a disaster, and almost lost me some friends.

This year, for some reason, I don’t think I want to give up the booze. But I guess I can still cut down. I might try the caffeine thing, which will be okay as long as I can get past the week-long cold turkey of headaches, shaking, and sleepiness.

I’ve also decided that I’m going back on a diet. I’ve let my weight creep up over recent months, and really need to do something about it. And a daily calorie allowance will help me limit the alcohol consumption (because, when it comes down to it, food based calories are always better than liquid based ones).

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