Richard Oliff - A nation of ritual and tradition

Richard Oliff
Richard Oliff

I didn’t have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday this year.

I tried desperately to make a couple but was never really blessed with the patience to cook much beyond a two minute egg.

The next day at the radio station quite a number of colleagues and listeners mentioned their family evening meal the night before and how children especially relished the routine cake-baking event almost as much as the pancakes themselves. Much in the same way as we all remember not to forget Saint Valentine’s Day, Easter or Christmas.

Perhaps it’s our inherent need to give rather than to receive that keeps us on our ritualistic toes. Local news on TV around the UK was filled with feel-good stories of pancake races around our cities, towns and villages. Yet Shrove Tuesday heralds the start of Lent which is the more serious aspect of the Christian message. There has been much talk in the media of late as to the religious identity of the ‘new Britain’ yet I can’t imagine our country without the many family occasions and traditions that have their origins in Christianity, and which bring back so many happy memories.

Other faiths have their traditions too which, invariably, involve family and community participation, and as much as many would target or criticise any religious group or faith, I would always applaud any thing or any ethos that can bring families or groups of people together in the name of love and peace, regardless of the occasion, motivation, ceremony or ritual.

Even the Christian calendar is a kind of pick n’ mix of what suits us best as a celebratory society. We have our Advent calendars prior to Christmas. Epiphany and Pre-Lent are overlooked as we skip to a kind of understanding of Lent itself. We then tend to put the Easter Triduum under the heading of Easter as we consign Eastertide, Ascentiontide and Pentecost to the back-burner, never to see the light of day except in specific places of worship.

This is of course an over simplification. I don’t think I’ve ever deprived myself of anything during Lent, a representation of the time that Jesus was to have spent in the desert, enduring the temptations of the Devil before being certain of his role. Yet, long before ‘no smoking day’ was even muted many people chose Lent as the time to quit many different things. ‘I will stop eating chocolate for Lent’ said a friend which made me smile, given that Lent is a prelude to Easter at which time we tend to over indulge on chocolate.

The spirit of Lent can be used at any time for the benefit of others: losing weight for charity is a corker!