Cuaresma means Lent

I’ve been meaning to write here since Ash Wednesday, which begins the Catholic season of Cuaresma, or Lent. For the non-Catholics visiting who need a primer, Lent lasts for 40 days beginning Ash Wednesday and ending Easter Sunday. And if you’re doing a little math in your head right now and have figured out that there are actually 46 days, here’s why we say Lent is only 40 days: Sundays don’t count according to the church’s calendar.

In Mexico, as well as in many other countries, it’s common for Catholics to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays throughout Lent, though some observe meatless Fridays year-round. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are also supposed to be fasting days, during which Catholic adults eat only one full meal. Though, depending on who you ask, you might find some who fast on all Fridays during Lent. You may also be familiar with the practice of Catholics giving things up for Lent – and perhaps you’ve wondered what that’s all about. Fasting and giving up vices during Lent are a way for Catholics to connect to Jesus, making a sacrifice that is supposed to help us understand his suffering. Ideally, we aren’t just giving up sin during Lent, but abstaining from sin after Lent as well. For example, giving up your favorite dulces (a particularly popular item for children to give up) but then going back to eating them after Lent is over is not really how it’s supposed to work.

Fish and vegetarian dishes are the main event on most menus during Lent, and of course it wouldn’t be complete without a few specialties for this time of year. My favorites include empanadas and capirotada, a sort of bread pudding. Most recipes have the same basic ingredients – bolillo rolls (pictured here), piloncillo, cinnamon, cloves, raisins, cacahuates or nueces and cheddar cheese – and each family has their own variation. I’ll share some of those recipes here soon. I also like to serve postre de limón for dessert during this time of year.

During Semana Santa (Holy Week), Mexico City practically shuts down. It’s one of the few times during the year where you won’t find bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hour. Many families go on vacation for one or two weeks during this time, and most people head to the beach if they can afford to go. José always like to go home for a visit to Mexico City during Semana Santa.

On Good Friday during Holy Week, you’ll likely also see a reenactment of the Via Crucis no matter where in Mexico you’re visiting. Mexico City has a rather famous reenactment that has been shown on several travel shows in the last few years.

I wish I could go with José for a visit during Semana Santa this year, but I recently started a new job and am saving up most of my vacation days for our annual family travels for La Navidad. But besides the new job occupying much of my time lately, I’ve been reflecting on my own behavior and have decided to make a serious effort to abstain from a few of the bad habits that I know I need to break. One is over-indulgence. The other is spending time roaming the web aimlessly when I’m bored or procrastinating – instead, I’m spending more quality time with my family. So far, so good on both fronts.

  • What have you given up for Lent this year?
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