We have already reached the midpoint of Lent and Easter is just three weeks away.
One of the ways we know these things is because this Sunday, March 11, is Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Laetare comes from a Latin word meaning “rejoice,” as in the sense of being light-hearted. It is the Sunday when rose-colored vestments and banners are used in our churches.
Rose-colored vestments are a sort of Lent calendar mark. Advent also has a rose-colored Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent. Advent also has Advent calendars.
So, are there Lenten calendars? Something that could help us count off our days through this holy season?
Turns out that there are — they are just more common in the Eastern Orthodox churches and in places like southern Italy.
In Greek, Lent is called Sarakosti — which means “40 days.” There is also something called Kyra Sarakosti — or “Lady Lent” — who serves as a Lenten calendar.
Kyra Sarakosti is either made as a large cookie (edible) or a salt dough figure (not edible). Sometimes she is made of paper or even as a cloth doll. She is shaped a bit like a gingerbread figure and appears on “Clean Monday,” which is the first Monday in Lent on the Orthodox churches’ calendars.
No mouth, seven feet
Kyra Sarakosti does not have much of a face: her eyes are closed and she has no mouth. This signifies that she is fasting and praying throughout Lent.
On her head, Kyra Sarakosti has a cross and often a veil, since she is to look much as a nun would. Her hands are folded in front of her in prayer and she may wear an apron to show that she has been cleaning house for Clean Monday.
Clean Monday is the time to clear out all one’s bad habits in preparation for Lent. Houses are also traditionally cleaned for the start of Lent — not only of foods that could not be eaten during Lent, but also of dust and dirt.
What is most unusual about Kyra Sarakosti is that she has seven feet. These mark each Saturday of Lent. On each Lenten Saturday, one of her feet is removed and eaten (if it is a cookie.) On Holy Saturday, her last foot is taken off and this is hidden in a fig or even placed up in a tree. Whoever finds the foot is considered lucky.
A variation of Kyra Sarakosti is Corajisema or Corajisima, who was often found in southern Italy. She is now enjoying a resurgence in popularity there.
Widow of Carnevale
Corajisima is also a female figure, but is portrayed as elderly because she is the widow of Carnevale. Carnevale is the name of the pre–Lent holiday season, which is personified as a happy man, much as our Mardi Gras king — “Rex” — is depicted as a party-goer. Her name, Corajisima, comes from the Latin word for “40”: quadragesimus.
Corajisima is not made of dough, but from cloth, so that she is doll-like. Instead of feet, she stands on a rod anchored in a potato, an orange or even an onion. Seven feathers are stuck into the vegetable or fruit: six forming a ring with the last in the center. The old woman, who often resembles a witch, also holds a distaff wrapped in flax, because she is supposed to be busy spinning yarn.
Hung up outside, Corajisima is exposed to the elements of early spring. On each Saturday of Lent, one of her feathers is removed. The final feather, the one in the middle, is pulled out at noon on Holy Saturday, when Lent traditionally ended.
Another celebration for the middle of Lent is popular in parts of Canada and other areas of the Americas that were influenced by French colonization: Mi-Carême. Mi-Carême literally means “the middle of Lent.”
Candy and masks
To celebrate Mi-Carême, people dress up in masks and visit their neighbors, who must guess who they are. Some of the Mi-Carême figures (called “les Mi-Carêmes”) give out candy and other treats to children and the elderly. There are also dances and parades with costumes, as well as “mumming.” Mumming, or mummering, is a form of mime that includes masks and fanciful costumes.
After Laetare Sunday, as we approach the Fifth Sunday of Lent, our thoughts turn toward Passiontide and the approach of Holy Week. However, for Laetare Sunday, with its rose vestments or les Mi-Carêmes with their candy and costumes, the message is about the joy of salvation. We are to rejoice in it, even as we face the coming sorrows of Christ’s Passion.
It is as Paul wrote to the people of Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: Rejoice!” (Ph 4:4). So on this Sunday, we will wear rose and rejoice in resurrection.
Sources: stnicholascenter.org; greekreporter.com; calabriatheotheritaly.com/lent-in-italy-calabrian-tradition; “Curiosities of Popular Customs … Illustrated”; omhksea.org; greekweddingtraditions.com; micareme.ca; ameriquefrancaise.org; novascotia.com; “The Catholic Encyclopedia”; “Dictionary of the Liturgy”; “The Church Visible”; and “The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism”