Fire, water and spring

There are many folk rites connected with spring that involve fire or water.  Some of these include, blessing of holy water on Holy Saturday, the tradition that being touched by running water on Easter brings good fortune, and bonfires that burn away winter.  These folk customs come from different parts of Europe and are not all observed everywhere or by everyone.


When were jelly beans invented?

A. 1700s

B. 1800s

C. 1900s

Mid Lent

Today marks the start of Mid Lent a Wednesday to Wednesday period that is at the center of Lent. Much the way that Christmas also has folk celebrations that Christians participate in that have little to do with Christmas per se, so does the approach of Easter involve folk festivals that have little to do with Easter per se. (The answer to yesterday’s question is true. There are many celebrations of spring as Easter approaches.)

Germany:  The burial of winter is celebrated.

Poland: The return of the stork is celebrated.  This shows that summer is coming.

Southern France and Italy: The end of winter meaning that there is no more ice on the fountains is celebrated.

In many parts of Europe this was a traditional time to announce an engagement. (Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, and Ireland).

The Orthodox Church (Russian, Greek, celebrates Middle Cross Day on the Wednesday of the fourth week of Lent.  Cross-shaped cakes or biscuits are eaten on Middle Cross Day.  Due to calendar differences, the middle of Lent for the Eastern church is not always that same as that of the Western church.


True or false.  The symbolism at the heart of many of the folk customs of spring involve themes of fire or water?

Mid Lent approaches

The Sunday in the middle of Lent is also known as mothering Sunday.  In England it was traditional for apprentices to be allowed to return home to visit “the mother church” or in other words the church that the apprentice grew up in.  The carol “Mothering Sunday” was traditionally sung on the mid-Lent Sunday.

This year the mid-Lent Sunday falls on March 26th.  The week of Wednesday to Wednesday that spans the mid-Lent Sunday is known as mid-Lent.


J.S. Bach was Lutheran.  (There will be more about Lent and Easter music in future posts…)


True or False.  Many rites of spring are found in the various folk customs that are celebrated as Easter approaches?

Getting ready for Baptism

Historically many adult converts to Christianity joined the church at Easter and so Lent also marked a time of getting ready for baptism.  The new converts would undergo the Lenten fast and study to prepare for baptism.  In church services they would stand at the back of the church.  Many of these baptisms would be performed on Maundy Thursday.  Much more about Maundy Thursday as Easter approaches.


What denomination was Johann S. Bach?

A. Catholic

B. Lutheran

C. Presbyterian



Sackcloth is a coarse material.

This segues nicely into the topic for today which is what is sackcloth and what does it have to do with Lent?

From as early as the 400s, a sinner who was doing public penance would receive ashes on Ash Wednesday and wear sackcloth clothing.  The sinner doing penance would be apart from the community from Ash Wednesday until Holy Thursday when a rite of reconciliation would be performed.  This living apart from the community was known as quarantine because of the 40 day period involved.  It is from this practice of penance that we get the word quarantine which refers to the isolation of sick people.  Sackcloth is a coarse material that makes for uncomfortable clothes.  It is a sign of humility to wear such humble clothing.  Sackcloth and ashes are associated with Lent because of Ash Wednesday and this rite of penance.


Historically what rite did many people prepare for during Lent?

A. Baptism

B. Funeral

C. Marriage



Origin of the word Lent

The word Lent comes from Old English lencten and refers to spring, specifically the lengthening of days.  Although the word Lent can be used to refer to spring, it more typically refers to the special 40 days (excluding Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

What is sackcloth?

A. Coarse clothing

B. Wool clothing

C. Silk clothing


The first Saint Patrick’s Day parade in the U.S. was held in Boston in the 1730s.  Now well over 100 cities across the U.S. have annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parades.

Saint Patrick’s Day with a comment on Handel’s Messiah

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day.  It commemorates Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.  Like Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day remembers the day of the Saint’s passing.  Saint Patrick died on March 17, 461.  The shamrock is a symbol of both Saint Patrick and Ireland.  Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated with the wearing of green and with parades and feasts.  The first Saint Patrick’s Day parade in the U.S. was in Boston.  In what decade was that first parade held?

A. 1630s

B. 1730s

C. 1830s


Handel wrote the “Messiah”.  It first premiered in Dublin in 1742.  Handel’s “Messiah” is best known for its “Hallelujah” Chorus.  Handel’s “Messiah” has both the Christmas and Easter stories in it.  There will be more trivia questions about Handel’s “Messiah” as Easter approaches.


Today is 10 days from the halfway point in Lent

Lent is the 40 days from Ash Wednesday  through Holy Saturday (the Saturday before Easter) but does not include the intervening Sundays.  40 is a symbolic number that is used many times in the Bible.  Easter is one month from today (April 16th).  10 days from today is the halfway point of Lent (this year March 26th).


Yesterday’s question was related to the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day.  The question asked who exchanges Claddagh rings.  Claddagh rings are exchanged among friends.  (Not enemies or strangers).


Which composer wrote “Messiah” a musical program that includes both the Christmas and Easter stories?

A. Bach

B. Handel

C. Watts


When was “Messiah” first performed?

A. 1740s

B. 1750s

C. 1760s

A few St. Patrick’s Day fun facts

Although March is often dominated by the presence of Lent and Easter, another holiday in March is St. Patrick’s Day.  (March 17th).  That day is fast approaching so here are a few St. Patrick’s Day “fun facts”:

Construction of the Empire State Building began on March 17th, 1930.

During the Revolutionary War the Continental Army used daily passwords for security.  In 1776 the secret password of the day on March 17th was “Saint Patrick”.

Chicago, Illinois and Savannah, Georgia both turn the rivers that flow through their respective cities green for St. Patrick’s Day.


Who exchanges Claddagh rings?

A. Enemies

B. Friends

C. Strangers

No Hallelujah sung for Lent

In the Western Church it has long been customary to give up singing Hallelujah/Alleluia for Lent.  Singing Alleluia returns joyously on Easter Sunday.

As noted in the writings of Saint Augustine, Alleluia was a common feature in Christian rowing songs in southern France as Christianity spread north from Rome.

The folksong “Michael row your boat ashore” (Popularized in the 1950s and 1960s) is an African-American spiritual that dates back at least as far as the Civil War.

Pelicans are symbols of Easter

Pelicans are symbols of Easter because in the middle ages a misunderstanding about pelicans arose.  It was thought that pelicans stabbed themselves and fed blood to their young.  (Likely due to the observers not being close enough to see that the pelicans were feeding fish to their young and that the blood was from the fish not the pelican).  This supposed sacrifice was thought to be similar to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  So pelicans became symbols of Easter.

Louisiana is known as “The Pelican State” due to the many pelicans that are found there.

The John Wayne movie “The High and the Mighty” references the pelican legend near the end of the movie.  The movie has several redemption themes and pelicans are symbols of Christ the Redeemer.

Daylight Savings Time

Daylight Savings Time was first suggested by Ben Franklin in 1784.  It was widely adopted during World War I.  It was repealed in many but not all countries after the war.  It was reinstated during World War II and then partially repealed.  It did not become widespread again until the 1960s and 1970s.

During two weeks of May in 1965 St. Paul and Minneapolis, MN were on different times.  St. Paul switched when most of the country switched times and Minneapolis switched at the time designated by state law.  Similar problems existed in other parts of the country due to irregular application of daylight savings existed such as: One year, 23 different pairs of DST start and end dates were used in Iowa alone. For exactly five weeks each year, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were not on the same time as Washington D.C., Cleveland, or Baltimore–but Chicago was. And, on one Ohio to West Virginia bus route, passengers had to change their watches seven times in 35 miles! 

The benefits are greatest at the middle latitudes and less so at the equator and the extreme latitudes.  The benefits are also greater at the eastern side of a time zone compared to the western side of the same time zone.

Generally sports, tourism, and retail have supported daylight savings while agriculture and evening entertainment have opposed it.

Daylight savings saves energy although studies on this subject have had mixed findings about the extent of the actual savings.  It also saves on oil consumption.

Daylight savings reduces the number of muggings that occur.

The Romans did not have daylight savings but the water clocks that the Romans used had different lengths of hours depending on the seasons, so summer hours were longer than winter hours.

Easter Lilies

Lilies have long a been a symbol of Easter. The plants known as Easter lilies originated in Japan on the Ryukyu Islands. They are also cultivated in Taiwan and Bermuda. Easter lilies used in the U.S. are generally grown in California and Oregon. Easter lilies have been raised on a large-scale in the U.S. since World War II. Easter lilies are largely grown along the Smith River near the Oregon/California border. The climate is cool and rainy and ideal for the bulbs. The bulbs are raised in the ground for 3 years under severe disease and pest attack. Then the bulbs are shipped to local greenhouses for the final growing stages. There are concerns that the heavy concentration of pesticides used in the production of the bulbs is polluting the Smith River, local groundwater and harming both people and fish. The environmental concerns are ongoing and haven’t been resolved yet.

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