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Christianity, Lent, Easter and our Culture

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This society prides itself on being staunchly “Christian” to the extent that our Constitution affirms that the Nation is founded on the belief in the supremacy of God. So strong is this commitment that there is hardly a function or even radio programme that begins without a prayer. That has been our historical experience since colonialism took control here.

That long tradition of Christianity has brought in its train, a range of traditions and customs related to Christian festivals and practices. {{more}}Among these, the Lenten season held a very prominent part. Coming as it did in the pre-1977 period immediately following the celebration of Carnival, Lent, in those days, for most Vincentians, signaled a season of restraint, sacrifice and worship. Indeed there was a time when it was considered almost sinful to sing or play our calypso music during Lent.

The change over to the June/July Carnival season in 1977 had repercussions as far as Lent was concerned for those not so committed to their Christian traditions, for the Lenten season no longer had the dramatic introduction as that provided by Ash Wednesday immediately following Carnival.

However, Lent had generated a number of socio-cultural traditions and practices which had bearing on our daily lives. Schoolchildren even had a game named after Lent and the numerous Lenten services had spawned a number of related practices. Even diet was affected for Lent was traditionally a no meat season with fish in its many forms being dominant. In the Holy Week which followed Palm Sunday, these dietary restrictions were rigidly followed, so there emerged the big market in the sale of salted mackerel and codfish which prevailed in those days. Today’s advocates of healthy eating must be happy for the fall-off in this market.

Good Friday and the Easter weekend had their own traditions too. Even the seemingly irreligious would make an effort to go to church on Easter Sunday, one of two occasions that non-church-goers could be seen in church, the other being Old Year’s Day (now called New Year’s eve).

Easter brought with it opening to celebration, the many picnic and fetes, and the tradition of excursions to and from neighbouring territories, helping to build connections and relations among Caribbean people. In many ways therefore, Lent and Easter had impact on our society way beyond their religious content and helped to shape the evolution of our culture.

It is difficult, outside focused research, to know to what extent our cultural practices have changed, whether these changes are positive or negative and how we can both educate new generations of our cultural history and preserve those traditions and practices we consider to be uplifting. Perhaps this is one possible area of research for our university level students in the social sciences, history or theology.

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