March 27, 2005

Getting Religion, Sort Of

Hello, all. Here's something I've been pondering on. As it happens, I observe Lent, the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter for which Christians are supposed to forswear vices and/or fast and/or abstain from meat on Fridays, depending on their persuasion. I'm not especially religious, but I like the ideas of a period of purification... it fits my idea of what a religion ought to be. And having depressingly few vices worth giving up, this year I gave up the drinking of sodas.

In retrospect, given the fact that I don't drink coffee, giving up my sole source of caffeine during one of the most stressful and sleep-deprived periods of my life may not have been the smartest move I could have made. But I stuck to my vow and made it through.

That's not what gets me, though. What gets me is that, about halfway through Lent, I consulted a calendar to see how much longer I had to wait before I could resume consumption of the quicker picker-upper. The answer I got seemed odd, so I started counting more carefully and... there are 47 days between Ash Wednesday and Lent! What a rip.

My initial suspicion was that, somehow, they'd screwed up the placement of Easter this year. But I check a few other years, and every year it was the same: they snuck an extra week into Lent without telling us. Since when did Enron's accounting department get put in charge of holidays?

So I started poking around a little bit to find out what was up, and I discovered that different faiths have different rules about Lent. Those Protestant religions that observe Lent, for instance, insist that Sundays are not counted when you figure the 40 days, which seems like a dodge (they count on the calendar the same, and you still have to live them), but does make the math work out correctly. I'm not sure if this means you can engage in your vice on Sundays or not, but the whole thing seems fishy to me.

Certain Eastern Orthodox religious, on the other hand, seem to have a better grasp of numbers. Their Lent lasts 40 calendar days, from Clean Monday to Easter Friday (they have their Easter on a different day). When I initially discovered the fuzzy Lenten math, I assumed that something like this was the answer, and that I'd simply been mistaken in my assumption that Lent lasts all the way to Easter, and that it actually ended on Palm Sunday. (It would also explain the existence of Palm Sunday, a day I never saw a use for otherwise.) While I admire the logic of the Orthodox formulation, I don't think I could get away with re-calibrating the holidays for this. (Never mind trying to explain to the boss why I need Easter Friday off.)

For Catholics, meanwhile, Lent ends at sundown on Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday). There is no way of counting days that makes the Catholic Lent 40 days long, but this doesn't appear to bother them. (Nor does it appear to bother them that "Maundy Thursday" sounds like the name of a horror movie.)

As it turns out, all of this research didn't make me any less cranky about my caffeine deficiency. I wound up complaining about this to my mother yesterday en route to Grandma's house for the weekend. Mom, as it happens, was raised a Baptist, and the Baptists don't observe Lent. She has always been somewhat confused and amused by my observance of it, but she doesn't question it, since she generally believes religious observance to be a good thing. The conversation went roughly this way.

ME: Hey, Mom, I found out that Lent is a big fraud.
MOM: What?
ME: They say Lent is supposed to last 40 days, but I counted and it's actually 47 days. Can you believe that? Forty-seven days.
MOM: Getting thirsty for our sodas, are we?
ME: Forty-seven days.
MOM: Have you ever considered the possibility that you're chemically dependent?
ME: Forty-seven days.
MOM: Poor baby.
ME: [moan]

Throughout the rest of the weekend, I would mutter "Forty-seven days" to myself in a mournful tone, and my mother, in her loving and compassionate manner, would laugh at me. Let's see what she gets for Mother's Day.

Is any of this meaningful to anyone besides me? Probably not, but I don't care. I don't have to. Meantime.... bartender, another Pepsi!

Happy Easter, everyone.

Posted by Mediocre Fred at March 27, 2005 06:29 PM
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