Lent: Austerity vs. Indulgence

Funny thing about Lent, on the one hand it means abstinence (along with prayer and giving to charity). On the other it means it’s pig-out time, at least for some Catholics. The way I grew up in the Chicago area, Lent was always a fairly austere period, when gratuitous eating of any kind was frowned upon. But just try telling that to the more exuberant Catholics down here in Louisville. Lenten Fridays here may be meatless, but they’re host to high-spirited fish fries that would make many northern Catholics blush. Are we really supposed to be having this much fun this time of year?

Hot cross buns were about as indulgent as the Catholics I grew up with were willing to get during Lent. Lightly glazed plain white bread was what they were, with a thin cross of white icing dripped over them. Not much to get excited about, really, save for the sweet part, which acted as a kind of teaser to the sweets we were all looking forward to on Easter morning. My twin sister and I usually just nibbled it off and left the rest for the birds. I hope to do a little better than that.

8 thoughts on “Lent: Austerity vs. Indulgence”

  1. I find the differences around Easter (and other holiday) traditions fascinating, having moved from eastern New York – where Lent is a “give up chocolate or beer if you feel like it” sort of affair – to the western end of the state, where everyone and his brother runs a fish fry every Friday through the season. Including the Protestant churches.

    1. Yeah isn’t that amazing? Mrs. Pastry and I were simply stunned by the difference — and how many non-Catholics flock to the fish fry parties. It’s a head-scratcher, but a whole lot of fun!

      – Joe

  2. Interesting! That gives some perspective as I’ve been wondering how come Swedes sell their “semlor” (basically marzipan and cream filled buns) through whole Lent period, as here in Finland those are sold only before Fat Tuesday after which comes the 40-day fast before Easter, though none really do it nowadays (or maybe some Orthodox Christians?), but still maybe we have more Orthodox influence here…

    1. You know, while this sort of religious culture stuff may not make sense to some, I actually think it’s fun. There are lots of complaints these days that no one values seasonal scarcity anymore, i.e. now that people can buy strawberries any old time springtime means less. But a little self-imposed scarcity seems to engender nothing but scorn — Puritanism! Denial! Denial! What if it’s actually a low-investment way to help yourself to appreciate the good stuff a little more? I think it’s great that the Fins don’t sell the real indulgences much after Fat Tuesday. I knew I liked those folks. Of course the reindeer steaks and cloud berries helped!

      Thanks, Yukiko!

      – Joe

      1. Thanks! And exactly: appreciating the seasons in cooking makes you really wait for some foods (though sometimes it is nice to have imported strawberries in the middle of winter).

        1. We eat strawberries all year I must confess since they come up from Florida on a more or less constant basis. I don’t think my girls could get through a day without them. Oranges are the big seasonal fruit in our house…then again we eagerly await good pears in the fall. Last year’s were so good they make my mouth water just thinking about them!


          – Joe

  3. It all seems very odd to me. New Zealand is a very secular country. I, a skeptical agnostic, keep the tradition of hot cross buns on Good Friday just because I like traditions, but most people have no idea that they are supposed to be eaten at any particular time. They are in the shops from Christmas onwards, and often have chocolate chips added these days.
    I don’t know any people who do anything in particular in Lent either. Presumably the devout Catholics do, but religion is considered a private thing here so I don’t really know who they are. The only person I’ve ever seen wearing Ash Wednesday ashes was my stepmother’s friend forty odd years ago. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t know about that ceremony at all.
    I totally agree with your idea about self imposed scarcity Joe. I make a batch of HC buns on Good Friday morning, and that’s ALL I eat on Good Friday! Never eat them any other time, and really look forward to it.

    1. Nice to hear from you, Bronwyn!

      As for eating nothing but hot cross buns on Friday, I don’t blame you one bit! Thanks for the comment,

      – Joe

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