Thursday, 5 April 2012

Tid, Mid, Miserai

The Monk's mention of Maundy Thursday led me to remember years gone by and some of the old traditions of the Church that have fallen into neglect and disuse.  That lack of understanding of religious festivals is probably what led to our local Tesco (and therefore probable many others nearby) stocking hot cross buns during Advent!  In the North East of England, either for those fasting for Lent or those who paid no real heed, the fourth Sunday in Lent was always referred to as "Carlin Sunday".  Most practising Christians believe that the Sundays in Lent are not fast days, others will be slightly more stict, however, Carlin Sunday was a day where the main meal of the day would be Carlins.  The Carlin is a medaeval pea variety that now has a heritage food designation, the species is CajanusCajanwas and requires overnight soaking, a day's boiling and then normally frying before being seasoned with salt and vinegar.  Typically now a long lost memory of people of a certain age!

The rhyme that children learned, certainly up until the 1950s, that related to the Sundays of Lent went as follows;

Tid, Mid, Miserai;
Carlin, Palm, Paste Egg day;
We shall have a holiday,
with bonny frocks on Easter Day.

I suspect that most people will recognise Palm Sunday in there, but what of the others?  I could set a quiz, but I rather suspect that the Monk would deciper the first three quite quickly, I cannot recall if he is a crossword fan, but it would be a simple matter to a Times crossword man who does not like hard boiled eggs.  On the first Sunday in Lent, (or second, depending upon how you view the six 'weeks' of Lent.) named Tid in the rhyme, the traditional Latin hymn Te Deus Laudamus would be sung, on Mid, the hymn Mi Deus and on Miserai, the Psalm Miserai Mei. 

Another food associated with Lenten Sundays would be Simnel Bread, my understanding is that girls "in service" would bake such a cake for their mothers at their employers expense and present them on their visit home for Mothering Sunday, we can only assume that the family employing the girls fasted on that Sunday if no other!  We then come to what the Church would call Passion Sunday, although the practice varies, but anyone from the NE of England, particularly one who is either Roman Catholic and prefers the Tridentine Mass or is CoE and over 50 would call Carlin Sunday; I wonder how many people still prepare the Carlin peas as their supper?  Palm Sunday, as mentioned goes without saying and is the beginning of the final week of Lent celebrating the arrival in Jerusalem, but what of "Paste-Egg Day"?

Well, eggs have long been associated with Easter, as have lambs and while most contemporary eggs are chocolate, some people must still hard boil eggs and paint them.  There were dried flowers saved in some areas through the winter to boil with the eggs to colour them violet, some Roman Catholic Churches still veil the statues, icons and other representations at various times to commemorate Christ hiding away and they use violet cloths to do so.  The NE being the territory of the Percies, one of the staunchest Catholic families to survive in Britain; the Border lands do not take lightly to intruders, especially those from the south who intend to tell them how to run their lives and their churches, such customs have survived.

However, what of the egg?  Well, eggs in mystical ceremonies long pre-date Christianity, at least in its modern European form as do fasts in late winter, fasting was not optional for those who had not been able to lay store until well into the 19th century.  So we have an adaptation as is so common where Liturgy meets embedded custom, it is the wise course of action and embeds the new memory in place of an older one rather than banning practices that would then immediately go underground and survive invisible as the Russian Church and other Orthodox groups did during the years of the CCCP, to emerge stronger than ever and in their full splendour when the time was right.  So the story goes that the egg represents not simply new life, but the stone that moved from the tomb.  I am a strong believer in the power of moral tales, parables and traditions that illustrate beliefs, they encourage the young to do more than follow a faith, they encourage a tradition of trying, from a young age, to understand the complexities of life and the changing seasons, the comings and goings, the births, the deaths and the memories.

But why the "Paste-Egg"?  Probably from the Greek and / or Latin origin of the word for Easter, Paeche / Pascal / Pasque / Πάσχα, that is still in use in Southern Europe.  Originally the lamb to be eaten at Passover by the Jews, St John records John the Baptist refering to "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the World."  But an Easter Lamb in most of England would not make a feast for a family, lambing is only just under way as I write, I watched one emerge into a gloriously sunny day just last week.  This, however is a modern luxury in any colder part of the world; during my time in Aberdeenshire I assisted in lambing  at Christmas, at New Year and for the deathly weeks of January.  The reason is simple, outdoor lambing would result in dead lambs, so the stock would be indoors, either in a modern barn or byre or in times lang syne, keeping the family warm!  There would be no food to keep the ewes alive until Easter to give birth, so they were sent to the tup earlier and traditionaly lamb at Christmas, so by Easter, eating one was possible.

So, the new life I watched coming into the world last week is a symbol of new life anywhere, the egg is a symbol of new life, of new hope of a new season and hope for a new future.  My personal view is that the resurection is a figurative story of great power, I recognise that the Monk has a more traditional and fundamental interpretation and I respect that view, however, tomorrow, Christians will quietly remember a death that changed the history of the World,  on Sunday they will celebrate the new life, the renewal of hope.  I wonder how many in today's world will be celebrating the last supper tonight to remind us of the bonds of fellowship?

(PS If I am to be resurected somewhen, I suspect that I will be the woodworm chewing through the excellent timber in a gentlemans desk...)

1 comment:

  1. As I have frequently remarked, Josephus, your knowledge of scripture, custom and practice puts a large majority of regular church goers to shame. A Happy Easter to you.