It is the middle of the Christian season of Lent, a time of growth and sacrifice. During this time, Christians meditate on the sacrifice that Christ will make at Easter, and honour it by making sacrifices of their own. Okay, but what does that have to do with Paganism? I bet some of you reading this don’t believe Christ ever existed. And if you do believe he was a real man, you probably think he was nothing more than a talented teacher and not the literal Son of God. However, at the same time, I think we can all learn something from him about sacrifice, selflessness, and making good decisions.
In decades and centuries past, people usually gave up rich food for Lent. We have Pancake Tuesday/Mardi Gras on the day before Lent starts (Ash Wednesday) as a way to use up eggs and butter. And we celebrate Easter with chocolate not because the goddess Eostre was a chocolatier, but because Easter Sunday is the day that observers of Lent can eat sweets and treats again. I’m giving up pop (e.g. soda, Coke, or whatever you call carbonated sugar beverages in your area) for Lent this year (although I’ve lapsed a couple of times), because I’ve come to believe a little bit of sacrifice builds character.
Take a minute to think about the world we live in today. If you live above the poverty line, I’m willing to bet that you have access to darn near everything you need and the vast majority of things you want without any real effort. Want to watch your favourite movie? Load up Netflix and enjoy. Did your favourite author just release a new book? Amazon will send it to your Kindle in a blink of an eye. I can get my favourite British cross stitch magazine on my iPad with a couple of clicks, weeks before it ends up in the bookstore. Not only that, things are so cheap right now! When I was a little girl, a new box of crayons was a big deal. Now, I can pop over to the dollar store and get my little guy a 24 box of genuine Crayola crayons for a whole $1.50. Between what I’ve bought him and gifts from classmates, at six he currently owns more crayons then I did during my entire childhood.
Why should we practice sacrifice in the middle of such abundance? I think that very abundance is the reason. How can we develop strong characters and the ability to deal with disappointment if we are always giving into to our desires? I’ll give you another example from my own life. This year I am crafting using only items that I already have in my stash, buying additional supplies only when I need something to finish a project or to fulfill an obligation. Normally, I buy not exactly everything I want when it comes to patterns or yarns, but pretty close. Denying myself this instant gratification is helping me to build my character, and even increasing my feelings of self-worth. Rather than getting fleeting pleasure from buying something new, I am getting lasting pleasure from finishing projects.
We certainly don’t need to be Christian to have a season of sacrifice. For those of you who walk the Wiccan path, the time between Samhain and Yule might make an ideal time to explore the idea of giving up something, of focusing inward, and of using up what you already have in abundance. If you walk another path, think about the liturgy of your faith, and focus on a time of year when your deity made some sort of sacrifice (big or small) and consider honouring it by doing something similar in your life. And, when you find yourself desiring a can of pop, a new book, or a night out at the movies, remember everything you already have and give thanks for the abundance.