This day was a general holiday, particularly for apprentices, and it would have been strange if it had not frequently become a day into which people tried to cram all the pleasure they would soon have to forego.
In Norwich, as probably in other cities, processions were made to symbolize the rapid approach of Lent. In 1440, say the Norwich records, such a procession was instigated by a certain John Gladman, who was known "as a man ever trewe (true) and feythfilll (faithful) to God." Crowned as king of Christmas, his horse bedecked with gilt and every sort of finery and tinsel he was preceded in the procession by twelve other horsemen, each representing a month of the year and each dressed appropriately. Last in the procession, following after the glittering king of Christmas, came Lent, a horseman dressed from head to foot in white cloth and herring skins, mounted on a horse with trappings of oyster shells--and this "in token that sadnesse shulde folowe (sadness should follow), and a holy tyme (time)." Thus they rode through Norwich, and many others of the townspeople joined in, dressed in every sort of fantastic dress, all of them "making myrth, disportes and playes."
That they ate pancakes everywhere is merely because eggs and butter and milk had to be finished off before the fasting began, and the making of pancakes, the beating of the batter, the frying and tossing of the pancakes, could be a festive affair.
There seems no reason why one should not have a party on Shrove Tuesday. Few people have the faintest idea why pancakes are eaten, so these could be made and the reason for them explained. Now, when butter and eggs and milk are all allowed in Lent one might let the party include a last ceremonial tasting of whatever those taking part intend to give up during these forty days--sweets, sugar, cigarettes, whatever it may be.
In Kent, it was once the custom to make two effigies on Shrove Tuesday, and to burn them to ashes as a sign that good living was now over and done with and that a stricter time was at hand, and at a Shrove-tide party there could be a short explanation of Lent, while it might very well end up with the whole group going to confession.
LENT TO EASTER
ALL Fools' day" hardly springs to mind as having the slightest connection with Lent. All the same, it seems reasonable enough to believe that it alludes to the mockery of Christ by the Jews, and "that as the passion of our Savior took place about this time of the year, and as the Jews sent Jesus backwards and forwards to mock and torment him, i.e. from Annas to Caiphas, from Caiphas to Pilate, from Pilate to Herod and from Herod back again to Pilate, this ridiculous or rather impious custom took its rise from thence, by which we send about from one place to another such persons as we think proper objects of our ridicule." It is worth remembering that the commonest way of making "April fools" of people is by sending them on absurd errands.
Mothering Sunday, Shere Thursday or Maundy Thursday are names of which not everyone knows the origin. Mothering Sunday is so called because the Mid-Lent Sunday Mass likens the Church to a mother. The meaning of Shere Thursday, if shere were spelt "shear" in the modern way would not surprise us: "The people would that day shere theyr hedes and clypp theyr berdes, and so make them honest ayenst Easter Day," thus suggesting, perhaps, that the Lenten austerities included abstinence from shaving or hair-dressing as well as from certain foods.
The word "maundy" is derived from "mandatum," a command, and it was in virtue of Christ's command at the Last Supper that we should imitate him that on this day kings and queens and bishops undertook to wash the feet of poor people, as Christ had washed his apostles' feet, and at the same time to give them gifts.
Dried herrings, indeed, together with dried peas and beans, seem to have been the staple food of Lent, and Passion Sunday in the north of England was even called "Carle Sunday" from the invariable custom of eating carlings, or dried peas.
On Good Friday, after the veneration of the cross, when people brought offerings of eggs and wheat to the church, they made a herb pudding, whose chief ingredient was the passion dock, and which could hardly have been intended as a palatable dish. Neither could the buns, baked with a cross, which they ate, since they were originally unleavened and certainly reminiscent of the bread used at the Last Supper. On this day, in Gonnaught and in central Ireland, it was quite common for children, even babies, to fast, so that from midnight on Maundy Thursday to midnight on Good Friday they ate nothing, and in the case of babies, drank nothing at all, while their parents did a hard day's work on only a drink of water and a small piece of dry bread. It is entirely in keeping with the human understanding of the Church that no one was shocked when these same people at midday on Holy Saturday clapped their hands loudly, shouted: "Out with the Lent!" and set to on a piece of bacon, or a chicken, or whatever their family purse allowed!
- A Candle is Lighted, Imprimatur 1945 -