Monthly Archives: February 2015

How to Knit Plaid

Plaid is awesome and a plaid knit item is even awesomer. But the idea of carrying yarn across the back for miles and miles is not very appealing, and the tension on a single-stitch-wide vertical stripe would be very difficult to maintain. So how do we knit plaid? In my research, I found many different methods. I’ve put them in order of my favorites to my least favorite.

  1. Crochet Slip Stitch or Duplicate Stitch Vertical Lines. Knit horizontal rows of different colors for plaid stripes, simultaneously purling vertical rows where you want the vertical color lines to be. Then go back over it with the crochet hook, crocheting slip stitches of preferred color into the purl stitches. The knitted version that does not require a crochet hook is to duplicate stitch. This is my favorite method for single-stitch vertical lines. Example:
  1. Slip Stitch Intarsia. Basically, for vertical lines, [k1 CC, k1 MC] and repeat until the vertical line is the desired width. If using more than one color, you may alternate with the three-plus colors as needed. This is ideal for multiple-stitch mixed-color vertical lines and/or vertical lines with a faded appearance. A variation of this is, if knitting a scarf, to knit it from side to side (that is, sideways along the long sides) rather than from end to end so as to reduce the number of color changes and intarsia yarn carry-overs. *CC = Contrast Color (the color of your stripes). MC = Main Color (the background color of your garment). Example:,2025,DIY_14141_5311852,00.html
  1. Weave Vertical Lines. Knit horizontal rows of different colors for plaid stripes. When complete, weave long strands of yarn to create vertical stripes. A variation of this is to knit horizontal stripes and use YO’s (Row 1: k1, k2tog, yo, etc… Row 2: purl). When complete, weave a single strand of yarn through the YOs. This method results in tiny stripes and may make the fabric not appear knitted, which may or may not be desired. Example:
  1. Double-Knitting. In double-knitting, you basically knit a two-sided fabric simultaneously. When you knit a stitch, it becomes a stitch on the side you’re working; and when you purl a stitch, it becomes a stitch on the opposite side (where it appears as a knit stitch). It’s extremely easy to knit with two colors, wherein the pattern on one side is exactly reversed on the opposite side. It is not ideal for more than two colors, which is possible but difficult with double-knitting. Double-knit fabrics, by virtue of the fact that they are double-layered, are stiffer than single-layered fabrics, which may or may not be desired.
  1. Slip Stitch or Mosaic Knitting. In slip stitch knitting, a stitch may be slipped with yarn in front, wherein the yarn carried over the front of the stitch is visible on the finished product; these yarn-in-front lines create tiny horizontal stripes. Alternatively, you can use mosaic knitting, which is a type of slip stitch knitting. If you want a vertical stripe of a color from the horizontal row below, slip a stitch from the line below. This won’t create long vertical lines; usually, the stitch is only carried up one row, maybe two. The end product will be stiffer than without mosaic knitting and the vertical lines will be very short.
  1. Modular Knitting. Modular knitting, in which smaller pieces are knitted individually and either seamed or knitted onto the edges of other smaller pieces, may be adapted to create plaids. You can do it in such a way that it requires little or no seaming and very few ends to weave in, as in domino knitting. However, I still think this method creates far more work than it is worth. It might be fun to try it out for a single blanket square or a dishcloth, but not worth it in my opinion to use it in any other capacity.
  1. Argyles. Argyles are those diamonds you sometimes see on (mostly men’s) socks and sweaters, made famous way back in the 1800s. When knit with thin, intersecting lines across an entire fabric, they could essentially form diagonal plaid. However, the typical method of creating the thin lines found in argyles—which is the part you want to copy—is to duplicate stitch, as already suggested above. Furthermore, in the meantime, you’re knitting a ton of these tiny diamonds with lots of yarn ends to weave in, so you’re creating far more work for yourself than you need to. Furthermore, it would be far more difficult to adapt this method to, say, a shirt or sweater than almost any other method listed above. Finally, as stated above, argyles would form a diagonal plaid, which may not be desirable and would be much more easily done with any of the other methods listed above.




Christian Traditions 014: Ember Weeks

Von Trapp Follow-Along: Maria writes one paragraph about this under “EMBER DAYS” toward the end of her book. She describes it as thoroughly Catholic, a day on which the parents explain to their kids the sacraments, the Catholic priesthood and pope, and even have the children participate in priestly ordination ceremonies that take place on these days.


There are four Ember Weeks roughly equidistant from each other throughout the year. This will be the first Ember Week for this year, or the second for the liturgical year (recall that the liturgical year starts in November). They roughly coincide with the four seasons, and so can be seen as periods of prayer and fasting for each season.


The Ember Weeks occur (Winter) between the third and fourth Sundays of Advent, (Spring) between the first and second Sundays of Lent, (Summer) between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, and (Autumn) starting the Sunday after Holy Cross Day. Advent moves no more than a week, ranging from 27 November to 3 December, and Holy Cross Day is an immoveable feast, always occurring on 14 September, so the Winter and Autumn Ember Weeks don’t move around much. However, because the “Spring” and Summer Ember Weeks are indirectly connected to Easter, they move quite a bit. The Summer Ember Week still occurs in the summer regardless of the date of Easter, but the “Spring” Ember Week may actually occur in winter. In fact, that is the case this year, where the “Spring” Ember Week occurs at the end of February.

The only Ember Days of any Ember Week are Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. For the year 2015, the “Spring” Ember Week is 22 February to 1 March (Ember Days are 25, 27, and 28 February), the “Summer” Ember Week is 24 May to 31 May (Ember Days are 27, 29, and 30 May), the “Autumn” Ember Week is 20 to 27 September (Ember Days are 23, 25, and 26 September), and the “Winter” Ember Week is 20-27 December (Ember Days are 23, 25, and 26 December).

Some Protestant and small Catholic churches observe Ember Weeks at different times of the year and some Protestant churches don’t observe them at all.

seasonal-cyclesWHAT IS IT?

The term “Ember” either comes from Anglo-Saxon ymbren, meaning a circuit or revolution, referring to the cycle of the year, or from Latin quatuor tempora, meaning “four times” (per year). Ember Weeks have been observed since possibly the early 200s AD or even since the time of the Apostles in the first century. Initially, there were only three Ember Weeks (in June, September, and December), but by the mid-300s AD to late-400s AD, a fourth had been added. Because of the early date of their adoption, the idea that they were based on pagan practices is uneducated at best, though they may have changed over time to add pagan practices to an already-existing Christian practice. (See Footnote 1.) In modern Christian practice, Ember Days are considered major ferias (a “feria” is a weekday that has special meaning, like Ash Wednesday), which means they must have at least a commemoration, even on the highest feasts. However, they don’t necessarily have to be observed if they occur on the same day as a feast. In other words, the fasting of an Ember Day is not necessarily observed when it falls on a major feast such as Christmas—as it will this year.

By the mid-400s AD, they were called the jejunium vernum (Spring), aestivum (Summer), autumnale (Autumn), and hiemale (Winter) so that these periods of abstinence would apply to all four seasons. Although it’s not certain when or why the fourth was added, it has been proposed that the three original fasts preparatory to the three great festivals of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost required the addition of a fourth purely for the sake of symmetry—or, as Pope Leo put it, so that it would touch every season of the year. However, I find fault with this idea because these fasts are allegedly prior to Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas, but the first observance (June) could never be prior to Easter and probably never prior to Pentecost, while the second observance (September) is not calendrically related to anything. Nevertheless, the practice of fasting four times a year is also an Old Testament practice, as outlined in Zachariah 8:19. The fast days occur on Wednesday (the day Jesus was betrayed), Friday (the day He was crucified), and Saturday (the day He was entombed). (In reality, He was buried Wednesday and resurrected Saturday; see Footnote 2.) Saturdays on Ember Weeks (except the in the Summer Ember Week) are also reserved for reading the story of God’s rescue of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace (Daniel 3).

The observance of Ember Weeks spread gradually and sporadically through the Western Church. It seems to have been adopted in Britain by late-500s AD, in Gaul (France) by the 700s AD, in Spain by the 1000s AD, and in Milan in the 1500s AD. However, it did not spread much if at all in the Eastern Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Church has never observed Ember Days.

Once upon a time, the Ember Weeks were set to specific dates, such as the first week of March, but that changed in 1095 to something closer to what we have now, and changed again several more times throughout the centuries. When Pope Urban II made the changes in 1095, the changes came with a mnemonic to remember the dates: “Fasting dates and Emberings be / Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie.” This referred to the first Sunday of Lent, Pentecost (a.k.a. Whitsunday, hence “Whitsun”), Holy Cross Day on 14 September (“Holyrood”), and the Feast of St. Lucy on 13 December (“Lucie”). More modern (but non-rhyming) mnemonics are “Holy Cross, Lucy, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost, / are when the quarter holidays follow.” and “Lucy, Ashes, Dove, and Cross.”

Ember Days were reserved for fasting, prayer, “to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy.” (Reference.) This references Genesis 1:28-30, where God gives Adam and Eve the task of caring for the earth, and Psalm 8. Because these days focus on nature, they were traditional dates for women to pray for children or for safe deliveries. The weather on each of these dates were also considered to predict the weather of an entire month. The “fasting” referenced above involved eating one full meal plus two partial, meatless meals per day on Ember Days (Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday) of the Ember Week. Christians were also encouraged but not required to observe the sacrament of penance (i.e., go to Confession) on these days as well. These days also came to be thought of as fortuitous days for ordination of the priests by the late 400s AD. In 1085, it was established as a law of the Catholic Church that ordination could only occur on these days.

The Spring Ember Week, which occurs during Lent, purposes to remind us to cast off vices so that “the boughs and herbs of virtues may grow in us” as plants grow in the spring. Since spring also symbolizes infancy, this Ember Week reminds us to be innocent as infants. The Summer Ember Week, which occurs after Pentecost (when we commemorate the gift of the Holy Spirit given to Christians), reminds us to be fervent and inflamed with the love of the Holy Spirit. Because summer also symbolizes youth, this Ember Week reminds us “to be young by virtue and constancy.” The Autumn Ember Week reminds us to “render to God the fruits of good works” in the same way that farmers harvest the fruits of their labors in autumn. Because autumn also symbolizes maturity and virtue, this Ember Week reminds us to “be ripe by attemperance.” Finally, the Winter Ember Week reminds us to die to the world in the same way that plants die in winter. Because winter also symbolizes old age, this Ember Week reminds us to “be ancient and old by prudence and honest life.” (From Reference.)


There are a few traditional activities potentially dating as far back as the time of the apostles in the first century AD, but most are much more recent in origin.

  • (Traditional) Readings. The readings generally differ according to the season in which the Ember Week occurs.
    • Winter (Advent) Ember Week: General (Psalm 147:12, 16-17), Wednesday (Luke 1:26-28), Friday (Luke 1:37-47), and Saturday (Luke 3:1-6).
    • Spring (Lenten) Ember Week: General (Isaiah 61:11), Wednesday (Matthew 12:38-50), Friday (John 5:1-5), and Saturday (Matthew 17:1-9).
    • Summer (Whit) Ember Week: General (Proverbs 6:6-8), Wednesday (John 6:44-52), Friday (Luke 5:17-26), and Saturday (Luke 4:38-44).
    • Autumn (Michaelmas) Ember Week: General (Psalm 144:15-16), Wednesday (Matthew 9:16-28), Friday (Luke 7:36-50), and Saturday (Luke 13:6-17).
  • Décor, Science, and Artwork. For yourself, your kids, or your church small group, decorate or dress, research science (for kids, try visiting the library for kids’ science books such as NatGeo Kids books and magazines; consider both seasonal and astronomical changes that occur this time of year), and/or do artwork relative to the symbolism of each Ember Week.
    • Winter Ember Week: Wet and cold weather, golden years of old age, humour of phlegm, phlegmatic temperament, element of water. Some ideas can be found here.
    • Spring Ember Week: Wet and hot weather, childhood, humour of blood, sanguine temperament, element of air. Some ideas can be found here.
    • Summer Ember Week: Dry and hot weather, youth, humor of yellow bile, choleric temperament, and element of fire. Some ideas can be found here.
    • Autumn Ember Week: Dry and cold weather, maturity, humour of black bile, melancholic temperament, and element of earth. Some ideas can be found here.
  • Observe the Weather. Like Groundhog Day, the Ember Days are supposed to predict future weather. We all know Groundhog Day is not at all reliable as a predictor of weather, but it’s still fun to note what the groundhog did and what the weather is supposed to be like. For fun, you can treat the Ember Days the same way. The weather conditions of each day of the Ember Week is supposed to foretell the weather for the coming three months.
    • Winter Ember Week: Wednesday predicts January, Friday predicts February, and Saturday predicts March.
    • Spring Ember Week: Wednesday predicts April, Friday predicts May, and Saturday predicts June.
    • Summer Ember Week: Wednesday predicts July, Friday predicts August, and Saturday predicts September.
    • Autumn Ember Week: Wednesday predicts October, Friday predicts November, and Saturday predicts December.
  • (Traditional) Prayer. Generally, the prayer focuses on thankfulness for the gifts of nature—kind of like a quarterly Thanksgiving. Pray to thank God for His gifts, that He would teach you to use His gifts in moderation, and that He would show you how to share the gifts He gave you with those in need. Some specific prayers can be found here.


Because each Ember Week is associated with an element, I thought that would be the best way to represent the Ember Weeks.

  • Knitting Patterns:
    • Winter (Water): Can you recommend a 3D water droplet pattern suitable as an ornament?
    • Spring (Air): Can you recommend a 3D swirl pattern suitable as an ornament?
    • Summer (Fire): “Blue Flame Special” by Elisha Sanders (here) or “Hermione’s Crafty Fire” by Natalie Scrimshire (here).
    • Autumn (Earth): “Knitted Sphere Tutorial” by Katherine Challis (here). (Note: in brown yarn, knit a simple sphere.)
  • Crochet Patterns:
    • Winter (Water): “Wendy the Water Drop” by Smeddley (here) or “Amigurumi pattern water spirit free pattern” by The Sun and the Turtle (here).
    • Spring (Air): “Swirl” by Victoria Belvet (here). (Note: the simplest air element symbols are simply one swirl alone or three swirls connected to each other. Make the one you prefer.)
    • Summer (Fire): Can you recommend a 3D flame or fire pattern suitable as an ornament?
    • Autumn (Earth): “How to Crochet a Sphere” by Rachel Choi (here). (Note: in brown yarn, knit a simple sphere.)





Footnote 1: Pagan Origins. Some say that because there are four Ember Weeks dedicated to prayer and fasting spaced relatively evenly—close to three months apart—throughout the year, the early Christians must have stolen the commemoration from pagan festivals that occurred on three-month intervals. However, Ember Weeks (of which there were originally only three, not four) date back to at least 150 years before Christianity became legal, and prior to legality, Christians were notorious for rejecting anything and everything even slightly pagan (in fact, they originally refused to commemorate Jesus’ birth because, as was stated in 1st and 2nd century Christian writings, birthday celebrations were a distinctly pagan practice) to the point that the Apostle Paul had to dedicate a significant part of a letter to one of the early churches explaining that eating foods that had been “blessed” by pagan gods was not sinful, but that if it offended others, they should abstain (see I Corinthians 8, 11:27-33). Therefore, the idea that Ember Weeks are coopted pagan holidays is at best an uneducated opinion.

However, it should be noted that the Church did coopt other pagan holidays and pagan practices after Christianity became legal. This may initially have had partly to do with the fact that Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity made the religion both popular and politically expedient, and so many people probably “converted” in name but not in heart or in practice and brought with them both their pagan beliefs and their indifference to Christian theology. Although Constantine enforced Christian doctrine and punished heresy, it’s possible that any pagans remaining in the Church made their pagan practices public after his death in 337 AD. They would have seen nothing wrong with this since the Roman religion was largely adopted from the Greek religion. However, there is at least one letter dating to the Middle Ages written from one priest to another wherein the author encourages the recipient to turn pagan temples into Christian churches rather than destroying them and to adapt pagan celebrations into “Christian” celebrations rather than forbidding them. So we know that pagan practices entered the church in “Christianized” form at least by the Middle Ages but probably as early as Constantine’s death. However, they most certainly did not enter the church before Constantine’s conversion and favoring of Christians in 312-314 AD and almost definitely did not enter the Church before Constantine’s death in 337 AD, so any observance that was in place by then would not have been based on pagan holidays, even if they later added practices similar to pagan practices to those observances. See my post on Co-Opted Christian Holidays for more information.

Christian observances with pagan or possibly-pagan elements were not necessarily based on pagan practices. (In fact, in some cases, they were based on much older Jewish practices.) Some Christian observances dating to post-Constantine may have been based on pagan events, whereas other Christian observances were based on Jewish practices, Christian practices, or Jewish or Christian events. Some elements of these events may have been adopted from pagan practices, but many were not. In the case of Ember Weeks, because of the early date at which they came into being, it’s more likely that they were uniquely Christian practices that happened to be similar to other Jewish and pagan three-month-interval practices than that they were adopted from a pagan practice.

Footnote 2. Friday death, Saturday entombment, and Sunday resurrection. For reasons I will explain in detail in a series of posts on the topic coming in late February and early March, we know quite definitively that Jesus actually died on a Wednesday afternoon, was buried Wednesday late afternoon just before sunset, and resurrected on Saturday either right before or right after sunset. Therefore, the Ember Week days (Friday for His death and Saturday for His burial) should be seen entirely as symbolic, not as historically accurate. The same is true for Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. I will share the link to those posts here when they are published. Stay tuned.

Sacred Tradition vs. Sola Scriptura

Introduction: Christian Tradition

As I expressed in another blog post at the beginning of the year, traditions are incredibly important, or so God seems to indicate by the vast number of traditions He instituted in the Mosaic Law. In the Law, when instructing the Jewish people to follow certain traditions, He even explains why they are so important. For example, after instructing the Jews how to commemorate the Passover, the first solely Jewish tradition He introduced (see Footnote 1), He explained to the people through Moses, “And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ That you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, Who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when He smote the Egyptians, and delivered our families.’ […]” (Exodus 12:26-27) In other words, it was meant to remind them of God’s protection generally and in a historical event specifically. In many of the traditions God introduced, He gave specific explanations of why the Jews were to observe these traditions, and all of them are the same: to help them remember something really important God did, be it His rescue of them from slavery in Egypt or His providence in the desert, or any of dozens of other events He wished for them to commemorate.

Unfortunately, Evangelicals, by virtue of their very existence (that is, that they have always, for their existence of uncertain length thanks to the necessity of practicing in secret under the Catholic Church, thoroughly rejected anything Catholic), have rarely commemorated any Christian traditions other than those most important, oldest traditions based most closely on the Bible, such as Easter and Christmas. This means that many of the very rich traditions of the Christian faith have been lost to us. As I explained previously, this is why I have chosen to study Christian traditions, and I began doing so at the beginning of this year.

Sacred Tradition

In my researching of Christian traditions, I have had some difficulty in weeding through those traditions so thoroughly Catholic that Evangelicals cannot take part. Mostly, my issues have been with events commemorating Mary, Catholic saints, relics, and events important only to the Catholic Church, such as the building of a famous Catholic cathedral. One of the biggest frustrations for me has been the plethora of events commemorating something not supported by or even rejected by the Bible. I found myself frequently writing explanations like, “Well, Evangelicals could never commemorate this aspect because it’s not supported by the Bible for this reason…” I found myself increasingly frustrated with this tendency of the Catholic Church, particularly in light of passages such as II Timothy 3:16-17, which teaches that Scripture (which, as I noted above, often does not support and sometimes even contradicts Catholic teachings and practices) is the infallible, God-breathed (or “inspired”) Word of God. The Greek word translated “inspired” or “God-breathed” is a word meaning “the breath of God” and references a strong, stormy wind which blows the ship along a certain path. The man must get on the ship to sail, as the apostle must pick up the pen to write, but it is the strong, stormy wind that moves the ship where the wind wills, and the irresistible breath of God that moves the apostle where God wills. Being, therefore, the very breath of God, God’s own words as transcribed by human hands like an edict was the actual word of the emperor transcribed by a scribe without error (for to do so with error or alteration would mean death), Scripture is and should be the absolute reference for every doctrine and any doctrine not in line with Scripture must be rejected.

Finally, I came across what was to me a new concept, something that finally explained to me why Catholics have so many beliefs not found in or therefore supported by Scripture: a theory called “sacred tradition.”

This theological concept essentially holds that there may have been theological concepts or historical facts not recorded in the Bible, but which were passed down through oral tradition over the years, centuries, and millennia of Christianity’s existence. This concept teaches that such oral traditions are just as God-breathed, God-inspired—in other words, infallibly true—as is Scripture.

Sola Scriptura

On the one hand, I recognize that it’s possible there are some concepts or interpretations or events not recorded in Scripture which are true. However, it’s equally possible that they are false. We find extensive references throughout the Old and New Testaments warning us to be wary of false teachers (also called “false prophets”), who, among other things, will add new, false doctrine to that already in the Scriptures (see Romans 16:17-18; Galatians 5:7-12; Colossians 2:8; II Timothy 4:3-4; and II Peter 2:1-22 for examples of such references). Therefore, if anything—any concept, any doctrine, any event (see Footnote 2)—not found in the Bible is said to be true, it doesn’t matter how authoritative that person is, it must be put in the “possibly true” box. Only Scripture itself can be put in the “definitely true” box. Furthermore, anything not in line with Scripture must be put in the “definitely false” box.

This theological concept apparently also has a name: Sola Scriptura, from Latin meaning “only Scripture.” In essence, it teaches that, though there may be extra-Biblical authorities that govern Christian life and practice, Scripture is the ultimate authority, the only infallible authority, and that all other doctrine must be interpreted through the lens of Scripture. Or, like I described above, anything in Scripture falls into the “definitely true” box, anything that contradicts Scripture falls into the “definitely false” box, and anything not in Scripture but not contradicted by it falls into the “possibly true” (which implies possibly false) box.

The “definitely true” box might include, for example, the Virgin Birth of Jesus—that is, the doctrine that Jesus had no earthly father and was born to a virgin. This event is recorded in the Bible in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38 and prophetically referenced in Isaiah 7:10-16. (See Footnote 3.) The “possibly true” box might include, for example, an apocryphal book that tells a tale of Daniel and a dragon, Bel and the Dragon. It is not referenced anywhere else in Scripture and so cannot be defended by Scripture alone, and had been rejected as true (considered instead to be an early example of a Jewish fairy tale) by Jews and Christians alike until, in reaction to the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church decided to call all apocryphal books Scripture in the 1500s. However, it also doesn’t directly contradict Scripture, so can be called neither “definitely true” nor “definitely false.” The “definitely false” box would include some other apocryphal books that contain false doctrine, such as Tobit, which includes both the command to use magic and the concept of forgiveness of sins obtained by giving to charity.


In short, I now understand why the Catholic Church has so many beliefs and practices that fall well outside of Scripture and why they defend these beliefs and practices as divinely inspired (a.k.a. “sacred tradition”). However, my belief is unchanged that anything not directly from Scripture might be a false teaching and therefore must be viewed in light of Scripture and rejected as false or, at most, considered to be possibly true but also possibly false and therefore not suitable to inform doctrine (a.k.a. “sola scriptura”).





Footnote 1. In the Bible, the first solely Jewish tradition God instituted was the Passover. He introduced the tradition of circumcision to Abraham, who had many other children besides Isaac, who also had one child other than Jacob, who was the father of the Jews, so there were many groups of people other than the Jews who traditionally practiced circumcision because of God’s command. As a side note, there were also other ancient peoples who practiced circumcision for various other reasons not related to God’s covenant with Abraham, but Abraham’s descendants seem to be the first who practiced it so extensively.

Footnote 2. Obviously, I’m not talking about secular or world history. I mean any miraculous or religious event you would expect to be in the Bible, such as a story about Mary the mother of Jesus performing a miracle, or being miraculously conceived herself, or being miraculously taken into heaven without first experiencing death, etc.

Footnote 3. Although some would argue that the Hebrew word translated “virgin” in Isaiah 7:10-16 is a vague word that may not necessarily mean “virgin,” the New Testament references are extremely explicit that Mary was a virgin.

Christian Traditions 013: Ash Wednesday

Von Trapp Follow-Along: Maria talks a little bit about Ash Wednesday in the greater context of the season of Lent under “Lent” in her book.


Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent in most liturgical calendars. It acts as a very solemn counterpart to the festivity of Shrove Tuesday.

18 February 2015WHEN IS IT?

Ash Wednesday occurs on the Wednesday prior to the sixth Sunday before Easter. Because Easter is a moveable feast, Ash Wednesday is as well—meaning its date changes from year to year. The earliest Ash Wednesday can fall is 4 February and the latest is 10 March.

For the first 6 or 7 centuries, Lent began on the Sunday after Quinquagesima Sunday, so–excluding Sundays from the accounting–Lent lasted 36 days. The four days prior to Quadragesima Sunday, beginning on a Wednesday, were added in 714 AD to bring the number to 40 days.

This year, Ash Wednesday falls on 18 February.

ash wednesdayWHAT IS IT?

The name “Ash Wednesday” comes from the ashes used in this day’s service. On Palm Sunday, palm leaves are used in the celebration. Then all of that year’s palm leaves are collected and burned, and the ashes are reserved for next year’s Ash Wednesday. In the Bible, there are many places where we see ashes used as a symbol of grief or repentance or in pleas for special dispensation from God; for example, Tamar following her rape (II Samuel 13:19), Job’s repentance from his sin (Job 42:3-6), Jeremiah’s call for the people to repent (Jeremiah 6:26), Daniel’s plea to God to preserve the sinful people of Israel (Daniel 9:3), the Ninevites’ repentance from their sin (Jonah 3:6), etc. Christians have similarly used ashes as an external sign of repentance, as mentioned by Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225 AD), the historian Eusebius (c. 260/265-339/340 AD), and others. As described in the previous post on Lent, as far back as the 300s AD, grave sinners sought repentance, reconciliation, and absolution (that is, they came to “shrive”) on Shrove Tuesday. Part of the ceremony involved wearing sackcloth and being sprinkled with ashes. Afterward, they would spend all of Lent up to Holy Thursday in solitude, such as in a monastery, making penance for their sins. By at least 781-791 AD in some locations, this practice was at least partly abandoned and in its place, ashes were sprinkled on the heads of all at the beginning of Lent, not just on grave sinners.

On Ash Wednesday, the priest (in some denominations, but not all) blesses the ashes at the beginning of the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) and then, while stating either “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19) or the more modern “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15) (which was introduced in 1969), the priest places the ashes on the heads of the adherents. The original statement, based on words God spoke to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:19 after they sinned, reminded participants of their own sinfulness and mortality, and therefore implicitly reminded them of their need to repent. However, the newer version, that based on Mark 1:15, explicitly reminds participants of their need to repent. The ashes may most commonly be sprinkled over participants’ heads or smeared on their foreheads in the shape of a cross (in which case, they may be mixed with a little bit of water or olive oil as a fixative and recipients often choose to keep it visible throughout the day); because there is no set rule for how the Imposition of Ashes is to take place, there are also other less common methods in use in various locales. The priest often anoints himself with ashes before anointing any of the other participants. Only the blessing of the ashes must be performed by a priest, so even laypeople may (and do) perform the Imposition of Ashes on participants. In fact, participants often take home some of the blessed ashes to anoint family members who could not attend and church leadership are encouraged to take and administer the ashes anywhere outside of the church—for example, in shopping centers, nursing homes, and factories. In the Catholic Church, the Imposition of Ashes may be received by non-Catholics, people who have not been baptized, and even people who have been excommunicated. On the other hand, the Methodist Church only permits people who profess to be Christians and have been baptized to receive the Imposition of Ashes, treating it similarly to the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper).

Ash Wednesday, as the first day of Lent, also marks the time when Lenten fasting and abstinence and focus on instruction and penance begin. In fasting and abstaining, adherents eat smaller meals and abstain from meat and outside entertainment. For instruction, adherents study the Bible and works by or about great Christians which feed the mind, soul, and heart. For penance, adherents undergo the Imposition of Ashes described above. Furthermore, as the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday is the day on which all crucifixes are veiled with a purple cloth. For more details, see the previous post on Lent.


There are several traditional activities for this day, the most traditional being the Imposition of Ashes, which you can do at home or by going to a church that practices it.

  • (Traditional) Readings. The traditional Scripture readings for today are:
    • Psalm 51 or all Penitential Psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143)
    • II Corinthians 5:20-6:2
    • Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
  • (Traditional) Imposition of Ashes. You may easily attend a Catholic church to receive the Imposition of Ashes (recall as written above that you don’t have to be Catholic to do so), or you may do it at home. Traditionally, the palms used in Palm Sunday are burned and the ashes reserved for the following year’s Ash Wednesday. Obviously, you can’t go back in time to do that. Furthermore, there’s no reason why it has to be ashes from burnt palms; since this is not a commemoration written into Scripture, there are no God-given rules for how to do it.
  • (Traditional) Veiling of Crucifixes. If you have any crosses in your house, cover them with a purple cloth on this day.
  • Responsive Reading. Psalm 51 (called the Miserere—see Footnote 1) is often either read aloud by the priest during the Ash Wednesday service or used as a responsorial psalm. (M = Minister; A = All.)
    • M: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love;”
    • A: “according to Your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions.”
    • M: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
    • A: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”
    • M: “Against You, You alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight.”
    • A: “Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.”
    • M: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”
    • A: “Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.”
    • M: “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”
    • A: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise.”
    • M: “For You have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, You would not be pleased.”
    • A: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”
  • Responsive Reading. Here’s an alternative option for Psalm 51 as a reading for three people.
    • A: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love;”
    • B: “According to Your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.”
    • C: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
    • A: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.”
    • B: “Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight,”
    • C: “So that You are proved right when You speak and justified when You judge.”
    • A: “Create in me a pure heart, O God,”
    • B: “And renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
    • C: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.”
    • A: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;”
    • B: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;”
    • C: “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
  • (Traditional) Prayer. Pray the following prayer or use it to guide your own prayer.
    • “Into Your presence we come, Lord. A few moments of quietness in a busy world that demands our attention. Breathe on us now that we might know Your presence and Your power to see this day through.”


Okay, so this one was pretty hard. What sort of knitting pattern can you do to represent ashes? Ultimately, I thought of the quote priests speak over the adherent on whom he is sprinkling or smearing ashes: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This comes from God’s statement to Adam and Eve when He was banishing them from the Garden of Eden for their sin: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Genesis 3:19) Since I couldn’t think of a way to incorporate ashes into the knitting project for this event, I thought maybe something symbolizing Adam and Eve’s sin would be best. In reality, the species of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is not mentioned, so we don’t know what kind of fruit it was. It may have been a pomegranate tree producing pomegranates. Nevertheless, the traditional fruit usually depicted in scenes of Adam and Eve eating the fruit is the apple. Therefore, we will be creating apples!

  • Knitting Pattern: “Apple Knitting Pattern” by Linda Dawkins (here)
  • Crochet Pattern: “Apple” by Lion Brand Yarn (here)





Footnote 1: The Miserere. As discussed in the previous post on Lent, Shrove Tuesday was traditionally the day on which penitents would come to shrive—that is, to make confession and seek reconciliation and absolution. In the ceremony, together with the priest, they would recite the seven penitential psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143). Psalm 51, one of the penitential psalms, is called the Miserere or Miserere Mei because in Latin, the first line (“Have mercy on me, O God”) is “Miserere mei, Deus.” It was written by King David after the prophet Nathan confronted him about his abhorrently sinful behavior with Bathsheba (in which case, if you recall, he slept with her, found out she was pregnant, and ultimately killed her husband and married her in order to hide his sin, after which Nathan used a fake story to demonstrate to David his sinfulness and described to him the curses that would fall on his family as a result of his sin—see II Samuel 11-12). This psalm is used in many different church services and as penance after Confession. As explained above, it is also often used on Ash Wednesday.

Co-Opted Christian Holidays


In my last post, Co-Opted Pagan Holidays, I discussed a forum I found about secular Japanese celebrations of Christian holidays. Within the forum, one respondent asked how Christians feel about non-Christians co-opting their holidays. One person answered that all Christian holidays are co-opted pagan holidays, so it would be hypocritical of Christians to be irritated about non-Christians co-opting their already co-opted holidays. In my last post, I addressed the fact that the major Christian holidays are not based on pagan holidays at all, though elements added to those holidays in recent centuries may be and in some cases definitely were co-opted from pagan traditions, and many if not most of the lesser Christian holidays are also probably co-opted from pagan holidays. See that post for more details if you’re interested.

How Christians Feel

So that brings us to the question asked: How do Christians feel about non-Christians co-opting their holidays?

The problem with answering this question is that Christianity is, perhaps with the exception of atheism, the most diverse religion on the planet. Christianity is claimed by one third of the world population (approximately 2.4 billion people) and includes people on all inhabited continents* and in every country, ranging from 0.01% (Somalia) to 100.0% (Pitcairn Islands and Vatican City) of the country’s population. It is the predominant religion in countries across Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa and is even the state religion in 15 countries on the same continents.

You might say, “Okay, I recognize that the question was impossible to answer. In that case, how do Christians in the U.S. feel about non-Christians co-opting Christian holidays?” Unfortunately, even within the U.S., it’s impossible to answer that question. Because 73% of the country’s population claims to be Christian (and about 99.8% of politicians, lol), this means Christianity is claimed by people across the racial, cultural and ethnic, educational, professional, and political spectrum. Furthermore, and perhaps largely because of the vast diversity of the people within their religious group, some U.S. Christians may know more about their religion than other U.S. Christians, some may care more about their religion than others, and some may allow their political, cultural, or other beliefs to determine the importance or character of religious concepts while others may allow their religious beliefs to determine the importance or character of political and other concepts—and all with different results—and so on.

But I think it’s safe to say a few things. (1) U.S. Christians are largely ignorant of their religion in general and of their holidays’ origins in particular. (2) Most U.S. Christians are non-practicing or only lightly-practicing (i.e., they may go to church on some or most Sundays but don’t read their Bible or pray regularly or allow their religion to inform their daily lives). And (3) most U.S. Christians don’t care who celebrates what holidays, but most do care when they are told they cannot celebrate their own holidays in their own traditional way. For example, most U.S. Christians (and even most non-Christians) agreed that referring to Christmas trees as “holiday trees” in order not to offend anyone by using a word that includes “Christ” was excessive, unnecessary, and just plain stupid. However, any further than such very general concepts, I cannot speak for all U.S. Christians, much less all Christians around the world.

How I Feel

Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to explain how I feel about the matter. I guess you could say I’m in that group of laity that cares most about my religion and knows more than the average U.S. Christian (of course, that’s not saying much, considering the rampant ignorance of Christians about their own religion). How I feel about non-Christians co-opting Christian holidays depends on the manner in which they were co-opted, but I feel a number of things.

  1. Pride. I once read an article by a Catholic priest about Saint Nicholas. I expected him to say something about how unfortunate it is that people have forgotten who he was and have changed him into this weird, fantastical old man who lives in the North Pole with magical animals and gives gifts to children once a year. However, he formulated what was to me a rather profound thesis statement, that Saint Nicholas is the most enduring Christian personage, whose influence on the local community around him was so profound that people thought it so important to remember him to the point that he is now celebrated by Christians and non-Christians around the world. That enduring nature is something to be proud of. The profound impact that one Christian man living a Christian lifestyle had on a non-Christian world is something to inspire. Yes, the message has largely gotten lost. When God coincidentally came up in conversation with friends in my home recently (“Mom, who turned the light off?” “No one. God did.”), a kindergarten-age child from the U.S. ask his mother, “Who’s God?” But he believes in Santa. So maybe commemoration of Santa Clause doesn’t translate to commemoration of the original Christian message and whole point of Christmas, but the very Christian love and generosity of the season, inspired by Saint Nicholas, still informs the actions of people around the world during this season. That’s pretty darn impressive.
  2. Indifference. So what if others celebrate Christian holidays, even without knowing what they’re all about? I’ve (intentionally or unintentionally) commemorated holidays without knowing what they were about. Now that I live in Japan, which has a significantly different set of holidays than the U.S., I almost never know what the holiday is about, or even its name, when I take advantage of my husband’s extra day off to do fun stuff. That may not be the best comparison because I don’t actually commemorate the holiday at all, not knowing anything about it or about what we’re supposed to do during it, whereas most people in the U.S. who commemorate Christian holidays do so by taking part in some of the traditional practices associated with that holiday while knowing that there’s a Christian background to it. Nevertheless, my point is that if everyone gets a day off and their ancestors were Christians and passed down through the generations the tradition of commemorating this holiday, it’s totally understandable that they would still commemorate the holiday, non-Christian though they may be. It’s a little perplexing when almost-entirely non-Christian cultures as a whole adopt a Christian holiday, but I still experience a bit of indifference toward the practice. As long as you’re not making up stories about what my religious holiday is based on or telling me how to commemorate a holiday that has belonged exclusively to my religion for almost 2,000 years before non-Christians decided to celebrate it too, we’re cool.
  3. Irritation. In spite of the impressiveness of how thoroughly Christianity has affected or even completely altered world culture as demonstrated by widely-celebrated Christian holidays, I do get irritated when a very secular and commercial aspect of one holiday takes over the original religious aspect of the same holiday. This, however, exists to a minor degree, mostly because I’m Evangelical. Evangelicals mostly don’t observe the liturgical calendar—that is, they don’t commemorate and probably don’t even know about most if not all of the minor Christian observances—and only commemorate the really major Christian holidays, such as Easter and Christmas, with only a vague recollection of the possibly Christian background (and no knowledge of the origins) of other minor holidays, such as Saint Valentine’s Day and Saint Patrick’s Day. So since I knew little of the origins of, for example, Valentine’s Day, I didn’t care much about the commercialization of it. However, when Santa Clause completely eclipses Jesus to the point that people (by which I mean adults) may celebrate Christmas without even knowing it had anything to do with Jesus, much less who the heck that Jesus guy is, that’s more than a little irritating. People making money off a Christian season by pushing the “Christian” out of it and replacing it with a fairy tale is a little offensive. It’s like racists commercializing MLK Day and making money off it by pushing all of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and everything he stood for out of it.
  4. Frustration. When people who really don’t know anything about it, having done no research (or at least no serious research, since some people consider reading a random, poorly-written, non-researched, and fallacious blog post that agrees with their preconceptions to qualify as “research”), try to tell me that (a) my holiday was stolen from another holiday and therefore is completely invalid and entirely unworthy of commemoration and that (b) I cannot celebrate my holiday or even talk about my holiday because of the previous fallacious assertion or because it might offend someone who disagrees with me to hear a different point of view or see a different way of doing things (especially when I am constantly told that I need to hear different points of view and see different ways of doing things—in other words, that my or my group’s opinion and practices are the only ones in the entire world unworthy of consideration)… Yeah, that makes me want to grind my teeth. I get very frustrated when, having no actual knowledge of the subject, people assert that all Christian holidays—especially Christmas and Easter—are stolen or co-opted from pagan holidays. It irritates me that they’re spreading around this lie usually based on zero facts or research. Furthermore, it really frustrates me when, based entirely on their preconceived ideas and feelings and excused by this false information, they try to tell me how to celebrate my religion’s holiday. For example, being told I can’t say “Merry Christmas” or that I have to buy “holiday trees” or that I can’t write or talk about the foundation or history or purpose of the holiday in a public forum or in a public institution, or even in my private home… is pretty frustrating to someone who was foolish enough to think that “freedom of religion, speech, and press” meant “freedom of religion, speech, and press.”** I’m not sure I’d say I get angry, but I definitely get very frustrated.


So in summary… When all’s good in the world, I generally feel indifference and occasionally a modicum of pride when non-Christians commemorate Christian holidays. But when people make money off my religion’s holiday by pushing the religion out of it, when people tell me how to celebrate my religion’s holiday, or when people make up stories about how my religion or one of my religion’s holidays came to be and use that as an excuse to persecute me or my religion or to change the characteristics of the holiday entirely, I become anywhere from mildly irritated to very frustrated.

Wouldn’t you do the same?



*“All inhabited continents” includes Australia. However, you may have noticed I didn’t mention Australia by name, and that’s because Christianity is neither the predominant religion nor the state religion in Australia, so it did not warrant mentioning within the context of that paragraph.

**The full text of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for those of you who haven’t read it, is: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It has been traditionally understood that the prohibition on government creating any law prohibiting free exercise of religion, free speech, or free press also meant that government-funded institutions and public forums cannot prohibit the same.

Christian Traditions 012: Shrovetide and Quinquagesima Sunday

Von Trapp Follow-Along: As described in detail in a previous blog post, Maria discusses this period at length under “CARNIVAL.”

14-17 February 2015WHEN IS IT?

Quinquagesima Sunday is the first Sunday before Ash Wednesday, occurring 50 days before Easter. This year, that’s 15 February. Because Ash Wednesday is a moveable feast (it’s based on the date of Easter, which is based roughly on the Spring Equinox, and so Easter and, by extension, Ash Wednesday move to a different date every year), Quinquagesima is also a moveable feast. The earliest it may occur is 1 February and the latest it can occur is 7 March. Shrovetide, which is the Saturday before to the Tuesday after Quinquagesima Sunday, will occur 14 February to 17 February.

Frans_Hals,_Merrymakers_at_Shrovetide_(c._1616–1617)WHAT IS IT?

“Shrove” comes from “shrive,” which refers to the confession of sins practiced on the day before Lent.

Shrovetide refers to the period encompassing the last four days before Ash Wednesday. The last day before Lent, Shrove Tuesday, is so named because one of the three primary purposes of Lent is penance, and so the day before Lent starts became the day on which people confessed their sins in preparation for the penance of Lent. The word “shrove” comes from “shrive,” which means (1) to present oneself to a priest for confession, penance, and absolution, or (2) to hear the confession of, assign penance to, and absolve someone.

As discussed in a previous post, during Lent, people were not allowed to eat animal products, such as meat (including poultry and fish), eggs, and dairy products (though today, the only prohibition is meat). Therefore, Pre-Lent and Carnival, the entire period of 17 days before Ash Wednesday, became a time of celebration before the solemnity of Lent. Furthermore, the last few days before Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) developed into a time when people hurriedly attempted to empty their kitchens and pantries of the forbidden food since otherwise it would spoil in the following 50 days of Lent. Over time, traditions arose for each day of Shrovetide.

Shrove Saturday (so named because it is the last Saturday before Shrove Tuesday) is also known as Egg Saturday or Egg Feast Day because students and children were traditionally given pasch (pronounced pask) eggs (often limed or pickled) on this day. They are basically Easter eggs, a symbol of Christ’s resurrection, and are generally dyed or painted. Often, the creator would write a name on it in grease because the grease does not absorb the dye, and so after dying, the egg appears to have a name on it.

quinquagesimaQuinquagesima Sunday is so named because it occurs 50 days before Easter (if you include both Easter Sunday and Quinquagesima Sunday in the counting).  It is also known as Shrove Sunday because it’s the last Sunday before Shrove Tuesday. It’s also named Estomihi from the beginning of the liturgy before the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper performed on that day, which reads “Esto mihi in Deum protectorem…” This was usually the day on which the coming festivities were discussed and planned.

Shrove Monday (so named because it is the last Monday before Shrove Tuesday) is also known as Collop Monday because this is the day on which people would eat collops of bacon (a “collop” is a chunk or slice of meat or fat) with eggs. The fat drained and collected from the collops were the source of fat for the next day’s traditional meal. Children from poor families would take this day to go begging for food, called “Shroving” or “Gooding.”

Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent, is also known as “Fat Tuesday” in English (or, in the original French, “Mardi Gras”) because it is the day on which all remaining animal products, especially fats and cream, must be used up. It was also known as Pancake Day, for the traditional food to eat on that day. As Maria Von Trapp explains, pancakes probably became the traditional food for Shrove Tuesday because it’s a recipe that requires butter, milk, and eggs. Any remaining fat and eggs were usually used to make the pancakes for this day. On Shrove Tuesday, the church would ring the Pancake Bell in the evening to tell people that it was time (1) to come to church for the shriving, (2) to stop work for the day, and (3) to start making pancakes. After church was when the fun began.

As also discussed in the previous post about Pre-Lent and Carnival, Shrovetide and especially Shrove Tuesday, being the last day on which animal products could be eaten, was a time for feasting. Along with feasting came games, sports, dancing, singing, and any other revelry prior to the solemnity of Lent, during which such frivolity was not permitted. Some of the traditional games included pancake racing, various now illegal animal games (such as bear baiting, cock fighting, and cock throwing—see Footnote 1), football (meaning soccer, or games vaguely similar to soccer but with few if any rules and with most of the city’s population taking part), and mass skipping (that is, playing jump rope). We believe mass skipping developed sometime in the 1800s, with the first recorded event taking place in 1903.

What are pancake races? The legend says that a housewife in 1448 heard the Pancake Bell ringing and, fearing that she would be late for the shriving service, ran to church with her skillet still in hand and wearing her apron. Now, women of a certain age (for example, any woman over 16 in the Olney Race) run a race of 415 yards wearing cap and apron and are required to toss the pancake at least three times on the route. The winner receives a kiss from the Pancake Bell Ringer and a prayer book from the vicar. The pancake race is most popularly copied in Liberal, Kansas (U.S.).

Another pancake game that developed over time in schools was the “Westminster Greeze” (obviously originating at Westminster), where the school cook would toss a pancake over a 16-foot beam and the boys would scramble to grab a piece of it. The boy with the biggest piece was given a guinea as a prize.

(On a side note, Mardi Gras carnivals of France were a tradition brought with French colonists to the south of the U.S., which is why the Mardi Gras event held in New Orleans every year is the most famous one in America and one of the most famous around the world. The New Orleans Mardi Gras event was originally formulated with both European Christian traditions and African traditions brought or inherited by African American slaves. Today, there’s very little if anything Christian about it and it’s generally no longer a family-friendly event.)


In some churches, this date is known as Transfiguration Sunday and commemorates the Transfiguration of Jesus. However, there is also a Feast of the Transfiguration in August. That is when I have chosen to commemorate the Transfiguration, partly because the first few months of the year are packed with Christian observances but the late summer looks comparatively empty. 🙂


  • 14 February: Shrove Saturday or Egg Saturday
  • 15 February: Shrove Sunday or Quinquagesima Sunday
  • 16 February: Shrove Monday or Collops Monday
  • 17 February: Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day or Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras)


Like with Sexagesima, there are very few traditional activities for Quinquagesima Sunday itself. However, as described above, there are MANY traditions for the entirety of Shrovetide. Try to incorporate at least a few of those described below.

Shrove Saturday (Egg Saturday):

  • Food. Make Pasch Eggs (Easter Eggs). Traditionally, they were limed (read about it here) or pickled eggs (read about it here). Honestly, neither sounds appetizing to me, so I plan to simply boil the eggs and dye the shells. Write a name on the egg with wax or grease (you may write various names of God or, if in a family, you may write each child’s name), and then dip it in the dye.

Shrove Sunday (Quinquagesima):

  • Reading. I Corinthians 13, Luke 18:31-34
  • Prayer. Pray the following or use it to guide your own prayer.
    • “O LORD, Who has taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth: Send Your Holy Spirit, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before Your: Grant this for Your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake.  ”

Shrove Monday (Collops Monday):

  • Food. Make collops. Recall from the reading above that this simply constitutes bacon and eggs.
  • Shroving or Gooding. This was kind of similar to trick-or-treating, but not for candy—it constituted poor children begging for food. Consider adopting a trick-or-treat kind of practice at your church (your kids will love the fact that they get to trick-or-treat twice a year while all the other kids only get to do it once a year—in fact, it might draw kids to your church). If your church has many rooms (such as churches of denominations that practice Sunday School), you could even make it very elaborate by having a different kind of candy or food behind each door and have adults behind the doors to hand them out. Heck, you could go all out and give the children entire meals by having them go around with plates and allowing them to randomly select a certain number of doors and see what they get for their meals. As long as most of the foods are kid-friendly, the children might quite enjoy this! “I got a pig-in-a-blanket, mac & cheese, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a plum, and an orange!” “I got a grilled cheese sandwich, a mini hot dog, green bean casserole, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and applesauce!” The options are endless. Check out Pinterest for ideas.

Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday or Pancake Day):

  • Food. Make pancakes. Traditionally, these were eaten in the evening, but consider that you’ll be eating lots of other food in the evening and consider having pancakes for breakfast instead.
  • Party! Maria Von Trapp explains that you can do this partying with family or a church group. Her recommendation is that the entire parish/church take part—but, of course, this was in the day before the advent of “megachurches.” Traditionally, you enjoy games, dancing, and singing with lots of food that is incredibly bad for you (and forbidden beginning at midnight) and party until the clock strikes midnight. At that point, the entire group stops singing, dancing, and playing mid-dance, mid-song, and mid-game. All kneel down and pray the Lord’s Prayer, and then stand up and say to each other, “I wish you a blessed season of Lent,” and then go home.
    • Songs. See Footnote 2 for lyrics and tunes.
    • Games. Obviously, you can’t do the animal games traditionally associated with Shrove Tuesday, unless you enjoy being cruel to animals and they’re somehow not yet illegal in your location. But you can use any typical party games or add in some traditional Shrove Tuesday games: football, pancake race, pancake toss, mass skipping (jump rope)…
    • Dances. I couldn’t find evidence of any traditional Shrove Tuesday dances, but dancing in general is very much associated with Shrove Tuesday. As I mentioned in the previous post about Carnival, the very idea of it makes my Baptist-raised heart pound, but even if that’s true of you also, please break out of your mold and try it. It doesn’t have to be a dance of questionable moral value; it can be something as innocent as the hokey-pokey or line-dancing!
    • Kids’ Events. Lots of ideas can be found here.
    • Liturgy/Drama. A short liturgy is available here, at the end of the pdf linked above. It’s actually really cool and I highly recommend it. You can easily utilize it in any group setting or insert it into a dramatic performance.


The most appropriate symbol for this day is the number 50.

  • Knitting Pattern: “Numbers” by Frankie Brown (here). (These measure 4 inches length using DK [8 ply] or 3 inches length using Fingering [4 ply]. Since I recommend all these ornaments be less than 3 inches long, you should use Fingering.) (Note: knit only the 5 and 0. You may consider stitching them together. If you’re really ambitious, you might consider double-knitting and then stuffing them.)
  • Crochet Pattern: “Numbers 0-9” by CreativeCrochetWorkshop (here) (these measure 2 inches in length) or “The Moogly Crochet Numbers” by Tamara Kelly (here) (these measure 3.5 inches in length). (Note: crochet only the 5 and 0. You may consider stitching them together.)



Footnote 1: Cock Throwing. This was a game wherein contestants paid to throw sticks and stones at tethered cocks. If the contestant hit and stunned the bird and the contestant could pick him up, the contestant would win him. It’s believed to come from Norse times when an English plan to massacre a Danish settlement was foiled by a cock’s crow. As a result, all cocks were punished. Theoretically, this game is also the base of bowls, battledore, and shuttlecock. Shuttlecock was also a popular game for Shrovetide.

Footnote 2: Shrove Tuesday Songs. You can sing any party song on Shrove Tuesday, but there are a few traditional folk songs meant especially for this day.

Pancake Day Song (see an adorable video of a little British girl singing the song here)

  • It’s Shrove Tuesday,
    Pancake Day has come!
    Time for some cooking,
    Time for having fun!
    We’ll make some pancakes,
    Lots for everyone.
    It’s Shrove Tuesday,
    Pancake Day has come!

The Pancake Song (lyrics and tune here)

  • Woman of the house and good family,
    Please may I have a pancake ?
    Mother is too poor to buy flour
    And Father too lazy to work.
    Please may I have a pancake ?
    My mouth is dry for want of a pancake.
    If there is no butter in the house
    Put a large spoonful of treacle,
    And if there is no treacle in the house
    Give a terribly large pancake.
    Terribly, terribly.

Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday (alternate lyrics exist depending on region; the tune can be found here)

  • Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday
    Poor Jack went to plow
    His wife made some pancakes
    And didn’t know how.
    She flipped them and tossed them,
    And made them so black
    She made them so awful,
    She poisoned poor Jack
  • Plow Monday, Shrove Tuesday
    When the boys went to plow
    My mother made some pancakes
    And she didn’t know how.
    She buttered them, she sugared them,
    She made them turn black.
    She made them so awful,
    She poisoned poor Jack.

Christian Traditions 011: Valentine’s Day

Von Trapp Follow-Along: Maria makes no mention of this event.


I find this day very interesting for two main reasons. First, because it is a day that is a very traditional Christian observance without any pagan influence (see Footnote 1), but which has very little to do with Christianity. Second, because it is one of the most widely-known and widely-celebrated Christian holidays, but is based on someone who was not in Scripture, of whom we know very little, and who may have had nothing at all to do with anything his “day” commemorates or symbolizes.

cupid ringCOLOR

We typically associate Valentine’s Day with red and pink, but the traditional color for Valentine’s Day is amethyst, due to an amethyst ring Saint Valentine allegedly wore, which is also believed to be the origin of amethyst as the birth stone of February.


almond blossomSYMBOL

Based on traditions and legends, symbols for Valentine’s Day include pink blossoms, almonds, hearts, amethyst, Cupid, friendship, romantic love, marriage, birds, keys, plants/flowers, and springtime.


14 February 2015WHEN IS IT?

Valentine’s Day is celebrated in most cases on 14 February. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates it on 6 July and 30 July, while in Brazil it is celebrated 12 June.


valentineWHAT IS IT?

Although it is celebrated in many countries around the world, it is not a holiday in most of them.

St. Valentine’s Day, also known as the Feast of Saint Valentine, came into being sometime in the 500s AD and initially commemorated one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. Although stories of the martyrdoms of various men named Valentinus exist, some elements may have been fabricated. One popular story tells of a Valentine living in Rome during a time when Christians were still persecuted who officiated weddings for soldiers who were not permitted to marry (false; see Footnote 2) and ministered to Christians. As a result, he was imprisoned. While imprisoned, he healed his jailer’s daughter, Julia, on 14 February. One embellishment of the story holds that prior to his execution, he wrote her a letter and signed it, “Your Valentine.” Another legend states that Julia later planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave, a sign of undying friendship. Yet another legend states that he would cut hearts out of parchment and give them to soldiers and persecuted Christians as a reminder of the men’s vows and of God’s love; this story is believed to be the basis for the use of hearts on Valentine’s Day. He is also said to have worn an amethyst ring (common for bishops) engraved with an image of Cupid (a sign of love recognizable and legal in the Roman Empire); soldiers recognized the ring and asked him to perform marriages for them. This is thought to be the reason why amethyst is the birth stone of February and why the color allegedly attracts love.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, 6 July is celebrated in honor of the Roman Valentine described above and 30 July is celebrated in honor of a martyred Bishop of Interamna, also named Valentine or Valentine of Terni. A third Valentine was martyred in Africa.

What do we actually know about the three Valentines? Valentine of Rome really did exist. He was a priest who was martyred circa 496 AD and buried on the Via Flaminia, the ancient Roman road that led over 300 kilometers (almost 200 miles) from Rome to the Adriatic Sea. Valentine of Terni became Bishop of Interamna circa 197 AD and is believed to have been martyred during the reign of Emperor Aurelian (270-275 AD). He was also buried on the Via Flaminia, but on a different location than the Valentine of Rome. All we know about the third Valentine is that he and several companions were martyred in Africa.

Traditionally, the day of love was 12 March (St. Gregory’s Day), 22 February (Saint Vincent’s Day), or 13 June (Saint Anthony’s Day). Valentine’s Day first became associated with romance in the High Middle Ages thanks to a piece of poetry called Parlement of Foules (1382) by Gregory Chaucer and to the Charter of the Court of Love (1400) by Charles VI of France; and the earliest surviving valentines were written in the early 1400s. It developed into a version closer to what we know today, wherein lovers give each other gifts and valentines, in England in the 1700s; it then spread throughout Europe in the 1800s. Today, Chinese and South Koreans spend the most money on Valentine’s gifts. In Finland and Estonia, Valentine’s Day retains its original commemoration of friendship, not the more recent association with romantic love. Valentine’s Day is also not associated with love in Greece. In Europe, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers “to unlock the giver’s heart.” In Norfolk, England, “Jack Valentine” is said to knock on the back doors of houses and leave candy and presents for children. In Slovenia, it is said that “Valentine brings the keys of roots,” and plants and flowers therefore begin to grow on this day. It is the day when work in fields and vineyards begins, and when birds propose to and marry each other. Another proverb, “Valentin—prvi spomladin” (“Valentine—the first spring saint”), describes how Valentine marks the beginning of spring.

Valentine’s Day was once a “Feast” (a commemoration of the second-highest order in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church), but was removed largely because all we really know about Valentine is that he was buried along the Via Flaminia. In other words, he may have been a complete cad for all we know. So although it is still a “commemoration” in the Anglican Church and a “feast” day in the Lutheran Church, it is no longer officially celebrated in the Catholic Church, and so most celebrations of Valentine’s Day are now primarily cultural or regional (that is, some Catholic Churches may still commemorate it, as they are permitted but no longer required to observe this event).

Japanese valentineCULTURE NOTE: In Japan, the people celebrate all sorts of Christian holidays, though it has only the absolute most superficial meanings for them. For example, Halloween is just a day to dress up in a costume, Christmas is a day to decorate the house and maybe give a few small gifts and eat KFC, and Easter is a similarly commercial holiday. They are not days for which the Japanese recall any religious basis at all. Valentine’s Day is the same way. On Valentine’s Day, girls give gifts to guys! Usually, they give store-bought or handmade chocolates either called “chocolate of love” (本命チョコ “honmeichoko”) or “courtesy chocolate” (義理チョコ “girichoko”) as expressions of love, courtesy, or social obligation. They may also give their female friends “friendship chocolate” (友チョコ “tomochoko”). Japanese chocolate companies make half their annual sales around this time of year. Then one month later (14 March) on White Day, guys give return gifts to girls. The gifts are usually white-themed, such as white lingerie, white chocolate, and marshmallows, but also may include cookies or jewelry, etc. The rule of thumb is that the White Day gift should be triple the worth of the Valentine’s Day gift! Not giving a return gift translates to placing oneself in a position of superiority and giving a gift of equal value translates to cutting the relationship. White Day was founded by the National Confectionery Industry Association of Japan in 1978 as an “answer day” to Valentine’s Day. South Korea observes Valentine’s Day and White Day identically to Japan. Then, on 14 April, “Black Day,” people who did not receive anything in February or March go to a restaurant to eat black noodles and lament their single life.


Other days of love are 12 March (St. Gregory’s Day), 22 February (Saint Vincent’s Day), and 13 June (Saint Anthony’s Day). Other days commemorating Saint Valentine are 6 July (Valentine of Rome) and 30 July (Valentine, Bishop of Interamna). Some Southeast Asian countries celebrate Valentine’s Day, White Day (14 March), and Black Day (14 April), as described above.


There are no deeply traditional Valentine practices, but there are some newer ones that developed over the last couple hundred years that you may consider trying out.

  • Kids’ Gifts. Recall that in Norfolk, England, “Jack Valentine” leaves gifts and candy for kids at the back door. Consider doing the same for your kids.
  • Food. Recall the story above about how Julia planted an almond tree in honor of her friendship with Saint Valentine. Choose one of the following almondy Valentine’s Day recipes below to make!
    • Almond Scones with Grand Marnier Glaze. By Coco Morante (here).
    • Almond Flavor Sugar Cookies. By Chief Foodiecrush (here).
    • Valentine Cake. By Molly (here).
  • Do Something Different. As described above, Valentine’s Day is not celebrated the same way or for the same reasons everywhere.
    • Celebrate Friendship. Recall that Valentine’s Day originally had no association with romantic love, but rather with friendship. Furthermore, it still commemorates friendship rather than romantic love in some countries. Give your friends valentine’s gifts and show them what the day was all about for most of its history.
    • Celebrate Culture. Recall that in many Southeast Asian countries, Valentine’s Day is a day for girls to give guys gifts, and guys return those gifts on White Day (12 March). Break from the Western norm and do the same!


The knitting pattern for Valentine’s Day is… (drumroll please)… a heart! (Man, I’m on a roll with the really obvious ones here…) To make it especially symbolic, make it with purple yarn.

  • Knitting Pattern: “Ewe Ewe Heart Heart” by Heather Walpole (here). (Note: the pattern says nothing about the finished size.)
  • Crochet Pattern: “Decorative Hearts” by Linda Cyr (here). (Note: the pattern says the finished size is 3” x 4.25”, which is larger than I wanted for my own ornaments. If you’re fine with that size, have fun. If not, consider changing the number of rows or stitches.)





Footnote 1: It has been suggested that Valentine’s Day is based on Lupercalia because of the former’s association with love and the latter’s association with fertility, two vaguely similar concepts. However, Valentine’s Day was not associated with love until Chaucer’s poetry in the 1300s, about 800 years after Valentine’s Day first came to be. Some sources also claim that Pope Gelasius I replaced Lupercalia with the Feast of the Purification of Mary on 14 February, again referencing the connection to romantic love. However, (A) there is no indication that Gelasius intended such, (B) the dates don’t fit the theory because the Feast of the Purification of Mary was only celebrated in Jerusalem during Gelasius’s time, (C) the Feast of the Purification of Mary was actually the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord during Gelasius’s time and was not associated with Mary at all until well after Gelasius’s time, and (D) the Feast of the Purification of Mary was only set to 14 February because it occurred 40 days after 6 January, which the Eastern Church considered the date of Jesus’ birth (the Western church considered 25 December to be the date of Jesus’ birth and so the Purification of Mary would be observed 40 days after 25 December on 2 February rather than 40 days after 6 January on 14 February). (For more information, see my previous post on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, a.k.a., Candlemas.) Finally, another author named Alban Butler claimed without any evidence to back it up that men and women drew names from a jar during Lupercalia to form couples, and that this is the origin of Valentine’s letters. However, this practice was never associated with Lupercalia and actually began in the Middle Ages, when men would draw names of girls to sleep with. This practice was combatted by priests, and so had no genuine or original connection to Valentine’s Day.

On a related note… Coincidentally, I’ve read accusations against every Christian holiday occurring in February of a basis in Lupercalia. But this should not be surprising because any Christian holiday—of which there are several dozen throughout the year—will occur in close proximity to some ancient pagan holiday—of which there are also several dozen throughout the year—on the very limited Gregorian calendar—on which there are only one dozen months. So if you want to accuse one holiday of being based on another, it would be very easy to do if your only basis is temporal proximity. Furthermore, because every holiday typically symbolizes numerous things, even creating a connection based on some vague or even very specific similarity in symbolism should not be difficult.


Footnote 2: According to legend, Emperor Claudius II issued a decree that soldiers were not to marry because he believed married men could not be good soldiers. In reality, no such marriage ban was ever issued. In fact, after defeating the Goths, Claudius instructed his soldiers “to take two or three women for themselves.” (Source)