Tag Archives: Lent

Food, Lent and St. Patrick’s Day

Archival Moment

March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day)

Foods fro the Lenten Season Advertisement, Evening Telegram

Foods fro the Lenten Season
Advertisement, Evening Telegram

St. Patrick’s Day, March 17 has long been considered a significant date on the calendar of Irish Newfoundlanders, in fact on St. Patrick’s Day, all Newfoundlanders lay claim to some smidgeon of Irishness. The Irish in Newfoundland have for hundreds of years celebrated their patron saint with parades, dancing, drinking, and feasting.

St. Patrick’s Day, falling as it does during the fasting season of Lent has proven to be inconvenient, it has also proven to be a source of theological confusion.

Those who follow the Christian calendar and fast or abstain during the Lenten Season (February 18 – April 4, 2014)  can relax,   bishops throughout the world, especially in dioceses with large Irish populations have customarily granted a special dispensation from the law of abstinence and fasting for the celebration. In the United States, this year for example, at least 60 of the nearly 200 dioceses (most with large Irish populations) provide such dispensations.

So ingrained in Newfoundland food culture was the idea of the “Lenten Diet” that there was a time during the Lenten Season when grocery stores in their advertising in the local newspapers boldly bragged in their advertisements that they carried “Lenten Diet” products.

In the local  St. John’s newspaper, Evening Telegram, on March 18, 1914 , Bishop Sons and Company Limited, Grocery Department stated in their advertising that their “‘Lenten Diet’ products included Salmon, Lobster, Cod Tongues, White Bait, Royans,  and a large selection of other fish products.”

The Lenten Diet, The Evening Telegram

The Lenten Diet,
The Evening Telegram

E.P. Eagan a competitor of Bishops and Sons at his Duckworth Street and Queens Road stores in St. John’s boasted in his advertising in The Telegram, March 16, 1914   that he carried “Foods that are popular during the Lenten Season.”

It was in this culture milieu that it would have been difficult to consider a good meal of Irish bacon and cabbage, the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal without an approving nod from the local bishop.

Irish bacon and cabbage, consists of unsliced back bacon boiled with cabbage and potatoes. Sometimes other vegetables such as turnips, onions and carrots are also added. Historically, this dish was common fare in Irish homes as the ingredients were readily available as many families grew their own vegetables and reared their own pigs. (As it was in Newfoundland.) In the mid-to-late 19th century, Irish immigrants to the United States began substituting corned beef for bacon when making the dish, hence creating corned beef and cabbage.

It is not likely that you will find a restaurant menu that will feature a “Lenten Diet’ and even more unlikely that our local newspaper will offer a ‘Lenten Diet’ column,  best stick to the fish.

On St. Patrick’s Day, break the ‘Lenten Fast’   it is all about the parades, dancing, drinking, and feasting!

St. Patrick’s Day Event:   Join the Irish Newfoundland Association (INA) at the Bella Vista, Torbay Road, St. John’s at 8:00 p.m.   $20.00   for their annual St. Patrick’s Day Entertainment and Dance. Two great traditional groups – Middle Tickle and the Freels. For more: http://irishnewfoundlandassociation.ca/irish-newfoundland-week-2015-events/     Tickets for this event  $20.00 are available at Fred’s Records, Travel Bug and Alpine Country Lodge.

Museum Exhibit: At the Rooms take some time to see: Talamh an Éisc – The Fishing Ground, an exhibit at The Rooms, which introduces the Irish peoples who have been in Newfoundland and Labrador since the late 1600s, the exhibit explores the communities they built and celebrates the contributions they made to life here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Influenza Epidemic Raging


March 2, 1919

Influenza Poster on Public Building

In March 1919 Newfoundland  and Labrador was being ravaged with the dreaded Influenza Epidemic.

The local government and the churches were in the fore front of the fight against the spread of the dreaded disease. In St. John’s, on March 2, 1919,  the Catholic Archbishop Edward Patrick Roche, issued a Pastoral Letter removing any obligation of fast and abstinence during the 40 days of Lent. The rationale was that if Roman Catholics were observing the ritual Lenten fast and rules of abstinence that they might be weakening their immune systems making them more susceptible to the pandemic.

On March 12, 1919 a notice was read in all churches that:

“Owing to the prevalence of influenza among the people, His Grace the Archbishop by the authority of the Holy See, grants during this present Lent, a general dispensation from the fast, except on Good Friday”

A variation on the same notice was read in the churches of all denominations.

The move, thought small was unprecedented. One of the many steps that were taken to try and stop the spread of the disease.

St. John’s as an international port of call for ships from around the world was exposed to all the good and ill that came with its geographical location. In 1918 with the influenza epidemic raging throughout the world, it was only a matter of time before the province became vulnerable to the disease.

The pandemic reached Newfoundland on 30 September 1918 when a steamer carrying three infected crewmen docked at St. John’s harbour. Three more infected sailors arrived at Burin on October 4 and they travelled by rail to St. John’s for treatment. A doctor diagnosed the city’s first two local cases of influenza the following day and sent both people to a hospital. Within two weeks, newspapers reported that several hundred people were infected in St. John’s.

Soon after the outbreak, government officials closed many public buildings in St. John’s, including schools, churches, and meeting halls, and introduced quarantine regulations for incoming ships. Many outport communities also closed public buildings to curb the spread of influenza. By the time the epidemic was over, 62 deaths were reported in St. John’s and 170 more in outport Newfoundland.

The effects were most devastating in Labrador, where the disease killed close to one third of the Inuit population and forced some communities out of existence. Death rates were particularly high in the Inuit villages of Okak and Hebron.

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Room Provincial Archives explore Death Records 1918-1919.  Reels 32 and 33 and GN 2/5. Special File 352-A, Colonial Secretary’s Department. “Correspondence Re: Outbreak of Epidemic Spanish Influenza in Newfoundland.” November 1918- June 1919.

Recommended Publication: Boats, Trains, and Immunity: The Spread of the Spanish Flu on the Island of Newfoundland Craig T. Palmer, Lisa Sattenspiel, Chris Cassidy: Newfoundland and Labrador Studies: Vol. 22 – Number 2 (2007) http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/NFLDS/article/view/10120/10396




Ashes, fasting and movies.


Ash Wednesday (February 18) is the beginning of Lent.

What are these ashes all about?

February 18, 1909

ash-wednesdayA colleague looked at another colleague today and wondered why she had dirt (ashes) on her forehead. Today  (February 18) in the tradition of most Christian churches (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and others) it is Ash Wednesday, originally called dies cinerum or day of ashes.

Ash Wednesday is the name given to the first day of the season of Lent, in the typical Ash Wednesday observance, Christians are invited to the altar to receive the ashes. The Pastor applies ashes in the shape of the cross on the forehead of each, while speaking the words, “For dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

For over twelve hundred years on the dies cinerum (day of ashes) faithful followers have approached the altar and received ashes upon their foreheads. These ashes are made from the burnt palm branches that were blessed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year.

The 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday (February 18) until Holy Saturday (April 4) are observed on the Christian calendar as the season of Lent, a time of abstinence and  fasting in preparation for Easter.   The ashes  manifest in a visual way  that the Christian for the next forty days  will abstain or fast from certain foods and ways of entertaining. Essentially thay are saying that for the next 40 days they will think about their faith and its place in their lives.

Abstaimning , fasting and generally changing one’s lifestle during Lent was  taken very seriously.  People would often give up there favourite food, would refuse to play cards and or attend dances and other social functions.

No movies during Lent

No movies during Lent

During Lent of 1909, Michael Francis Howley, the Catholic Archbishop of Newfoundland was very concerned about a relatively new form of entertainment that had become quite popular. His concern about this “new entertainment” stirred him to release a Pastoral  Letter to be read in all churches. The Pastoral Letter outlined the rules and regulations of Lent for that year.  The letter was very direct and forbade Catholics:

“to attend any worldly amusements; such as balls, dances, even in private houses, parties, theatrical or other entertainments, such as these new forms of moving pictures, or shows of any kind held in Public Halls by whatsoever name they may be called.”

The first moving picture in the province a showcase of moving images of famous persons was shown on February 19, 1901 at the British Hall (later known as the Paramount Theatre).

The idea of abstinence and fasting  is not exclusive to the Christian world.

Buddhism, the Buddha Himself encouraged monks and nuns to limit their food intake after the noon meal, and therefore it is common practice among Buddhist monks and nuns to refrain from eating after noon until the next morning on a daily basis.

Jews fast for six days which are spread out at various times in the Jewish calendar year; this means abstinence from food and liquids for both men and women – unless certain exemptions are necessary such as illness or pregnancy. The most important and holiest day of the Jewish year is Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), and on this day Jews will fast and pray for a period of 25 hours.

Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset for 30 days during the month of Ramadan, (which is the month the Prophet Muhammad revealed the Quran), followers are to abstain from food, liquid and smoking. Fasting is considered the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam (These pillars are: i. Creed; ii. Daily prayer; iii. Almsgiving; iv. Fasting; v. Pilgrimage), and it is obligatory for both men and women.


Shrove Tuesday—Pancake Day


February 17, 2015

Pancake ChefMardi Gras literally means “Fat Tuesday. The day is also known as Shrove Tuesday (from “to shrive,” or hear confessions) or Pancake Tuesday. The custom of making pancakes comes from the need to use up fat, eggs and dairy before the fasting and abstinence of Lent begins. This year Ash Wednesday is on February 18.


On Shrove Tuesday, Christians were encouraged to confess their sins so that they were forgiven before the season of Lent began.

To shrive someone, in old English (he shrives, he shrove, he has shriven or he shrives), is to hear his acknowledgement of his sins, to assure him of God’s forgiveness, and to give him appropriate spiritual advice.

The term survives today in ordinary usage in the expression “short shrift”. To give someone short shrift is to pay very little attention to his excuses or problems. The longer expression is, “to give him short shrift and a long rope,” which formerly meant to hang a criminal with a minimum of delay.

What is in that pancake

Lent is a time of abstinence, of giving things up. So Shrove Tuesday is the last chance to indulge yourself, and to use up the foods that aren’t allowed in Lent. Pancakes are eaten on this day because they contain fat, butter and eggs which were forbidden during Lent.

Pancakes were a simple way to use these foods, and one that could entertain the family. Objects with symbolic value are cooked in the pancakes, and those who eat them, especially children, take part discovering what their future will be as part of the meal.

The person who receives each item interprets the gift according to the tradition:

  • a penny—to symbolize poverty
  • a nickel—to symbolize wealth
  • a string—to symbolize a fisherman (if a boy got the string, he would be a fisherman, if a girl did, she would marry one)
  • a holy medal—the house blessed with a priest or a nun.
  • a hair clip—hairdresser or barber
  • a button — to symbolize that you would never marry – a bachelor or an old maid
  • a pencil stub – a career in teaching: imagine a lead pencil in your food!)
  • a nail — to symbolize that you  would know death in the near future (a bit morbid – mother argued that it represented a carpenter – handy man.)
  • a thimble—to symbolize that you would be a seamstress (a girl) or a tailor (a boy)
  • a wedding ring—to symbolize that you would marry soon

Note to the Cook – not a great idea to include the nail if the symbolic value is a short life or early death.  You might want to make the nail to represent the possibility of a carpenter in the household.   Perhaps drop the penny  – let all your children  find nickels  – for wealth.