By Suzanne Barbezat
After the revelry of Carnival, comes the sober time of Lent. Lent is the period of 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. The word for Lent in Spanish is Cuaresma, which comes from the word cuarenta, meaning forty, because Lent lasts for forty days (plus six Sundays which are not counted). For Christians this is traditionally a time of sobriety and abstinence meant to correspond to the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. Many people give up something for Lent. In Mexico it is customary to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent.
Mexican Food for Lent
Some foods are traditionally associated with Lent in Mexico. It is very common to eat seafood on Fridays — fish and shrimp are both very popular. Another food commonly eaten during Lent is empanadas de vigilia. These empanadas are made with a flour pastry shell and stuffed with vegetables or seafood. A dessert that is often served during this time of year is capirotada, a bread pudding.
The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday. On this day people go to church and the priest draws the sign of the cross in ashes on their forehead. This is a sign of repentance and is meant to remind people of their mortality. In Mexico, many Catholics leave the ashes on their foreheads all day as a sign of humility.
The Six Fridays of Lent
In some regions of Mexico there are special celebrations on each Friday during Lent. For example, in Oaxaca, the fourth Friday of Lent is the Día de la Samaritana, the fifth Friday of Lent is celebrated in nearby Etla at the Señor de las Peñas Church. The custom is similar in Taxco, where there is a celebration on each of the Fridays during Lent in a different nearby village.
The sixth and final Friday of Lent is known as Viernes de Dolores, “Friday of Sorrows.” This is a day of devotion to the Virgin Mary, with particular attention to her pain and suffering at the loss of her son. Altars are set up in churches and private homes in honor of the Virgin of Sorrows.