Lenten meals hold special memories

By Helena Rodriquez

The 40-day Lenten journey to Easter Sunday has begun. It’s during this time of year that I think of Grandma Emma, her Friday meals without meat and the stories she’d share with us.

If you’re Catholic, you know meat is out on Fridays during Lent. But with Grandma Emma’s special Lenten dishes, which I don’t think she meant to be so indulgent, we often enjoyed these meals more than the everyday ones with meat. With the help of my tias and my mom, Grandma Emma would make delicious fried salmon patties with corn.

The Lenten meal also included her famous chile con torta. This dish consisted of beaten eggs that were deep fried with flour into little patties and covered in her rich red chile sauce. Another of Grandma Emma’s dishes was spinach with chile pods and boiled egg, and of course, she served it all with frijoles and tortillas. She also made bread pudding for desert.

The tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent is still observed by many (I’m sure Long John Silver’s likes this) in order to remember the 40 days and nights that Jesus reportedly spent in the desert with no food or water. Many people make their own small sacrifices by giving up something they like during Lent like soda or sweets. One year my daughter Laura tried to give up tortillas. That didn’t go too well.

Many other Lenten traditions, however, are largely outdated. Grandma Emma would tell us girls how she and her sisters were not allowed to go to any dances during Lent when she was growing up. That would have been during the 1920s and 1930s. This reminds me of the 2000 movie “Chocolat,” in which a priest goes into a rage when a woman opens a chocolate shop in a French village during Lent. Any kind of indulgence during this sacred time of year was strictly prohibited.

However, one old Lenten tradition, which dates back 200 years in New Mexico, continues today. Every year during Semana Santa or Holy Week, thousands of pilgrims take part in the Good Friday walk to the santuario in Chimayo where there is a sacred sand pit with dirt believed to have healing powers. Pilgrims line up on Good Friday and walk down the highway, along the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, toward the sacred sand pit that is surrounded by a wall of crutches and canes put up by people who claim to have experienced the dirt’s miraculous healing powers. As the story goes, the dirt pit is in the very spot where a sacred cross was believed to have been found in 1810 by a priest named Don Bernardo Abeyta.

My sister Becky has asked me to join her on the Good Friday walk in Chimayo this year and I just may take her up on that offer. As I told my daughter Laura, there’s something special about making these small sacrifices during Lent, about getting that imprint of ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday and then going without a convenience for 40 days. We tend to appreciate them more. And then on Easter Sunday, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the period of penitence and fasting turns into a joyful celebration.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at:
helena_rodriguez@link.freedom.com