Miracle on Market St: Lent in St Andrews

Something phenomenal has been happening over these past few weeks. I’m not talking about the newly established Kate Kennedy Fellowship versus the Kate Kennedy Club since, at the end of the day, all we really care about is buying our tickets for the May Ball.

No, the miracle that has occurred in St Andrews is Lent. More to the point, the fact that the mundane question of “what are you doing tonight” has been replaced with “what have you given up for Lent”? Whether alcohol, cigarettes, or late night trips to Dervish after the Union is your vice, these last 40 days have tested your will power. This is an impressive feat considering the only time I have ever seen anyone even remotely interested in Church associated activities is the Friday night Toastie bar when you only have 50p left in your pocket.

The irony is, of course, that the actual religious traditions are not even part of the equation. For the vast majority of people, ‘Mardi Gras’ refers to the massive carnival in Rio, Sydney or New Orleans that every self-proclaimed hedonist will have secretly put on their bucket list. The term comes from France and literally means ‘Fat Tuesday’ or, in other words, ‘gorge yourself on as many pancakes as you can fit into your stomach before Ash Wednesday’. Feelings of guilt that are borne out of this sugar-feast ought to kick in the next day. Then the desire to repent and absolve oneself follows shortly after. Or at least it ought to…

The wine-stained paper containing those New Year resolutions drunkenly written as the bells chimed in 2012 are long forgotten. However, with or without the help of Jesus, people seem committed to proving that they can go the distance with these new ones. I guess the rites of Lent have been usurped by something less spiritual. Self-improvement is always a great thing but no need to call it ‘Lent’ when it is more like ‘New Years: round two’.

Here are some examples: one friend has turned vegan after several years of vegetarianism, while another has made a nun-like vow to give up alcohol, crisps and chocolate. Only one of them is a Catholic but the other is equally dedicated to maintaining these restrictions. Also we shouldn’t forget the huge amount of people on the streets lamenting the loss of bread from their diets and those who have a slightly crazed look in their eyes, as the usual pack of cigarettes have been reduced to half and the nicotine hit is not quite the same anymore.

Previously when the Church’s hold over society was a little more prevalent, one would be expected to renounce pleasures such as meat and sugar in order to be reminded of the suffering Jesus encountered while in the desert for the same amount of time. However, I don’t think he had access to Tennents or a pack of Marlboros; otherwise maybe Lent would last four days instead of forty.

Some people have sworn off sex while others have taken a different route by declaring an end to involuntary abstinence. The end of absinthe consumption is also a feature, and other gems include giving up lectures, shaving, and burgers.

One part of me sceptically wants to ask, “Did you give up fun too?”, but the other part is incredibly jealous. I have always been more inclined to nurture my sins since the very idea of curbing them makes me want to foster new ones and improve the old.

In this day and age, vices are the new black (and the old black for that matter). Open any magazine and you will find at least one article dedicated to helping you improve some aspect of your life, be it weight loss or improving one’s organisational skills. I assume the women and men at Cosmopolitan and GQ magazine are, unlike the rest of us mere mortals, the only ones in the world who have managed to find the answer to these life-important questions.

So, as we approach the end of Lent, all I can say is good luck to those who are trying to make positive changes. I hope that you make it through this period of reflection and trials but if you don’t quite get there, I doubt any higher moral authority will punish you.

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