Sunday, March 06, 2011

Approaching Lent

Almost any description you read of Lent talks about this season as a time of prayer, fasting, and self-examination. Fair enough.

The website for the church to which I belong points out that Lent lasts for 40 days "like the flood of Genesis, Moses’ sojourn at Mount Sinai, Elijah’s journey to Mount Horeb, Jonah’s call to Nineveh to repent and Jesus’ time of testing in the wilderness." If you want to read more from that website, go

I can appreciate the beauty of such a time. Where Advent, the season that leads up to Christmas is a time of anticipation and waiting, Lent is more solemn, not nearly so joyful. True--Lent leads to Easter, where the climax is the resurrection account, but to get there, the story takes us through a trial, a betrayal, and a crucifixion. No wonder the season dwells on darkness.

But the meaning of Lent is not what this post is about.

This is about the way people get ready for Lent--by engaging in excessive celebrations and overeating.

On Saturday, my husband saw a small poster for a local Byzantine Orthodox church that was having its Mardi Gras festival. The features: Slavic foods, Mardi Gras beads, and a polka band. Did I want to go?

Sure, why not? Let's go.

When we walked in to this totally unfamiliar environment, we first were practically bowled over by sound--loud raucous polka music.

We asked for some of the ground rules--how to get food? where to sit? We learned we had to buy tickets--then order our food and pay with tickets. OK. Next was figuring out what the food items were. Kielbasa--that's easy. And perohis (aka perogies). Check. But halupki? And halushki?

So for ease, I said--just go ahead and order one of each. R-i-g-h-t! You can see the perohis, the halupkis and the halushki above. Mostly pale white food. Most carbohydrates. Mostly not much taste. I mean--if you like (make that love) cabbage, potatoes and flour--you are all set.

But it was fun. Something a bit different. Neither my husband nor I has any Slavic blood in our family pedigrees, so while these were unfamiliar dishes, we managed.

But isn't it interesting--preparing for Lent by over-indulging in some of the worst imaginable foods for your health's sake? Of course, Mardi Gras, aka Shrove Tuesday, aka Fat Tuesday, aka Fasnacht Day--all these day names refer to this coming Tuesday, the last day before Lent--the featured foods call for over-indulgence in carbohydrates, sugars and fats. Fasnachts--really donuts made from potato dough--what could be more. . .filling. Getting ready for Lent--for 40 days of denial.

I don't typically "give up" anything for Lent. Oh, I know--I'll give up halupki and halushki. Maybe even perohis.


Photos from Web.

Food photo guide: photo 1-- halushki; photo 2--perohis; photo 3--halupki.


Anonymous said...

My step-father's Russian and I used to belong to our local Russian Orthodox Church. They wouldn't have -- back then -- had anything fun like a Mardi Gras celebration but I love the idea of combining Mardi Gras with Slavic foods. I'm surprised it didn't focus more on MEAT since that is typically what is given up during Lent. During the Russian Easter celebrations which start early in the morning after midnight services, meat is a BIG deal! (If they have an Easter party, go again. It'll be way more fun! :)

Anvilcloud said...

Lent wasn't observed in our evangelical church. I don't know if that's good or bad.

dottieb said...

Lent was always a big deal when I was growing up. And we always gave up candy for lent. Ash Wednesday meant going to church early and then spending the day with a thumbprint of ashes in the middle of your forehead, wearing it as badge of honor. No meat on Fridays during lent - tuna fish and fish sticks became the order of the day. But how wonderful was Easter Sunday! After all the deprivation there was a beautiful new Easter outfit, complete with hat and gloves. Finding your hidden Easter basket,and eating your fill of all the wonderful candy you had dreamed about for weeks was so glorious. A time to remember....

Grizz………… said...

I dunno, some of that food sounds pretty close to good Irish fare. Colcannon, which when done right is sublime, is nothing more than cabbage and mashed potatoes. Though I can't say that other than kielbasa and perogies, I have any real experience with Slavic foods.

As for carbohydrates being the worst imaginable food for your health 's sake, we humans are, after all, carb burners; we more or less run on sugar. But again, this is just a single meal—or maybe a few meals—out of many throughout the year. A few days of eating food that tastes good annually probably isn't harmful. Birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter…I think these are times to enjoy food rather than worry about it.

Over-indulging is not the food's fault, but that of the one doing the eating. You wouldn't want a celebration's or feast's food to taste bad simply to counteract a lack of personal restraint, right? And I say thank God the diet Nazis weren't asked to plan the menu for such get-togethers, or we'd all be sitting down to a banquet of tofu and bean sprouts, and drinking designer water.

One other point—the Genesis flood did not last for forty days…that was the timespan of the the rain. The flood itself continued for some 360-plus days. Scholars, as scholars always do, have different opinions—lunar year, solar year, 365 days, 360, 370, 371? But certainly many times longer than forty for the actual flood. I'm particularly sensitive about this point at present because I'm sitting at my desk looking out at my own flood—which isn't quite to the level where I'm compelled to build an ark and start gathering critters (I have about four inches to spare) but is the highest ever since we've lived beside the river. The rains ceased day-before-yesterday; but the flood continues.

You know, those halupki are looking better by the minute…

KGMom said...

Liza--your experience shows how a family familiarity can make such foods much anticipated and enjoyed. We just didn't have that background. As for meat--in addition to kielbasa, they had hot dogs and Slavic hamburgers as well as pork bar-b-q. Good meats.

AC--I had the same experience, growing up with no emphasis on Lent. We are now members of a Presbyterian church where the liturgical year is emphasized. I enjoy the discipline such a cycle of spiritual emphasis affords one.

Bettie--you have given a wonderful description of how the deprivation of Lent leads us to the joy of new birth, new possibilities, even resurrection in Easter.

Scribe--you are quite right that it was the RAIN that lasted for 40 days, as we are told in Genesis. Of course, the 40 days concept had symbolic meaning for the ancients. Today, we get all literal and counting, and forget the mystery and majesty of such sweeping events. Of course, Lent itself is more than 40 days as the Sundays in Lent are not counted.
On the flood close by your house, glad all are still grounded. And, continuing to hope that nothing goes afloat there. Hoping that Monday has dawned fair and a tad drier for you.

possumlady said...

Honestly, that food looks pretty good to me, though I'm half Polish (mother's maiden name was Szczepaniak), so that may have something to do with it.

My sister and I went to a Polish day celebration at a local nursing home years ago. When we walked in, hearing the loud polka music and smelling fried onions, it brought tears to my eyes remembering many family get togethers of my youth.

You need to remember that the many poles were peasant farmers and carb loading was quickly burned off by daily work. Meat was a once a week affair, even for my mom who grew up on a farm.

Absolutely nothing better than cheese and potato pierogies fried in butter and browned onions!!!

possumlady said...

Oh, also you need a dollop of sour cream on the fried pierogies!!

You got me SO hungry for these that I've looked up a recipe. This will be my first time making them. Hopefully this weekend. Two different fillings--some with sauerkraut and onions and some with potato and cheese.

KGMom said...

Christine--Szczepaniak? Well, that outdoes any of my family names (Slagenweit was my mother's family name.)
When I was teaching, I always tried to pronounce student names accurately--that one would stump me.
But, I'll bet you would say--pronounce it just the way it's written.
By the way, there was no sour cream at the Slavic festival. I agree with your point about why such foods would have been developed. Farmers always ate the biggest meal at noon.

possumlady said...

Ha! Yes, pronounce it just as it's written ;-). Let's see...ShezPANnyak.

Actually I didn't know this was my mother's family name until after she died. To us it was Stefonek. Finally found her birth certificate after her death where it listed her true last name and did a bit of research on Apparently, the name was changed in the late 20's early 30's.

littleorangeguy said...

I have a bunch of Slavic friends, who have let me become an honorary Slav. I can see your point on the perogies (though not the potato and cheese ones!) but the Salvs have brought meat pies to a high art with burek. Check it out and you'll never want to give it up. Though for your heart, you really should.

Mauigirl said...

My husband's father's side of the family is Polish so I am familiar with those dishes you show up there! They're good now and then but I wouldn't want to eat them all the time, I agree.

I think the idea of indulging in excess the day before Lent speaks to something in human nature. For instance, when I quit smoking many years ago, the day before I quit I smoked about twice as much as usual. I'll tell you, it makes you not want another cigarette the next day and gets you off to a good start on going "cold turkey"!

Ruth said...

potatoes, cabbage, flour...with plenty of fat I am sure. I could easily give them up for Lent.