As children, we were never aware what the trigger was but every year, at the beginning of Lent, skipping ropes would be the essential piece of equipment for all of us. Individual ropes abounded, but so too did long heavier ropes that would stretch across the street. Of course, traffic was not a problem then; few families had a car, so the only motorised traffic we saw on our street was the electric milk float (if we were up really early), the bus once an hour, the baker’s delivery van and, very occasionally, an emergency vehicle.
Our Lent skipping culminated, on Good Friday, with a community walk (complete with packed lunches and ropes) from Newhaven, over the South Downs, to the village of Alciston (about 6 miles) where everyone, including mums and dads, would join in with the skipping. This wasn’t unique to Sussex; long-rope skipping took place in many places all over the country although the dates varied ~ in the north-east, for example, it was a Shrove Tuesday event. Sadly, I am unable to say to what extent this tradition has been maintained.
Lent, Holy Week and Easter activities have always been part of the traditional cultural scene both here and in many other countries; full of customs, folklore and traditional food. Lent is preceded by Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Day), also known elsewhere as Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday), with the opportunity for great festivities in many places and for using up food which cannot be eaten during Lent. So in many towns and villages on Shrove Tuesday the tradition of races has evolved, involving running with a pancake in a frying pan and tossing the pancake en-route.
The Royal Shrovetide Football Match has been taking place in Ashbourne in Derbyshire on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday since medieval times. It involves teams of an indeterminate size from two neighbouring towns moving a ball (using hand, foot or other means) through the town and scoring ‘goals’. The goals are three miles apart. Play starts at 2.00pm and lasts until 10.00pm, unless a goal is scored after 5.30pm when play ceases for the day.
On Maundy Thursday in the UK the monarch, or her representative, distributes specially minted Maundy coins to elderly people, one recipient for each year of her reign and usually in a different location each year. Traditionally this was an act of alms giving to the poor and was accompanied by ceremonial feet washing ~ a commemoration of Jesus’ washing his disciples feet at the Last Supper.
Good Friday is remembered with the eating of Hot Cross Buns. In my childhood, these would be homemade for the occasion, although the local bakers would make them for sale, but only during Holy Week. It feels strange to see commercially available buns on sale even before Lent these days. At home, Good Friday was also the occasion of the return local derby football match between Newhaven and Lewes (the first fixture always took place on Boxing Day).
Eggs have always had an association with the Spring and rebirth and the practice of decorating eggs or eggshells goes back into pre-history. In Africa, ostrich eggs which are 60,000 years old have been found with decorations and engravings on them and in several places around the Mediterranean gold and silver eggs have been found in graves. Christians in the early eastern church took up the idea and at Easter coloured eggs red as a symbol of Jesus’ death and later adopted brightly decorated eggs as representing Jesus’ resurrection.
In the UK Easter eggs were traditionally hen’s or duck’s eggs cooked and decorated in various designs for the table. Rolling eggs down a hill is popular in many places. Chocolate Eggs have not been around long.