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Saturday, 8 March 2014

Lent - the True Story

There seems to have been a division in Lent in recent years.

There was a time when it was all about chocolates - or not eating them, or cigarettes - or, rathet, not smoking them - but many people did still remembered to mark the season one way or another. This was probably put to death about the time that Shrove Tuesday was officially renamed Jif Lemon Day. Lent, in the popular imagination, is now just a lacuna - a void, if you will, rather than a South American relative of the camel. At one end, advertised by the people who sell eggs and plastic lemons containing lemon juice, is Shrove Tuesday. At the other, pushed by the manufacturers of confectionery, is Easter.

Easter is when we remember how the Easter Bunny discovered chocolate, and brought its manufacture to the masses in egg-shaped form to commemorate the ancient Aztec custom of cutting off their victims' heads and boiling them in chocolate to hang on the traditional Aztec Easter Trees.

The story of the Easter Bunny was imported from Brazil in that happy time for chocolate, before Willy Wonka so cruelly enslaved the Oompa Loompas. One of the worst episodes in the Western conquest and exploitation of native First Nation Americans. How theae gentle, fun-loving creatures became bonded labour in Wonka's hideous sweet factory is a matter of shame. The factory failed repeated Health and Safety inspections, and was many times nearly closed down due to small children getting stuck in pipes, contaminating the products, dropping through rubbish chutes or being savagely "juiced" or attacked by squirrels.

The Oompa Loonpsa were, of course, sworn enemies of the Munchkins. As long as the two diminutive tribes were living in the forests untouched by civilisation, this enmity mostly consisted of raiding each others' clearings and stealing Twixes. But they were dragged into a proxy war between Wonka and his nemesis, Oz. The two Westerners engaged in an escalating arms race, buying machine guns and small cannons with the profits from their respective emerald and chocolate empires. Eventually the Oompa Loompas gained the upper hand, stole all the lacunas (the pack animals, not the voids), and sacked the Emerald City. The Munchkin empire was no more.

That this horrific story became two of our most-loved children's stories says much for the power of Hollywood.

And so today, to try to claim Lent from its traditional roots in South America, as they have done with so many traditional pagan festivals, Christians put ash on their foreheads, swear off gin, and re-enact the story of Adam and Eve - to remember how far we have fallen.

Meanwhile everybody else eats hot-cross buns and Creme Eggs throughout the entire season, little knowing that in doing so they are cruelly satirising the fate of those Munchkins, and the ongoing suppression of the Oompa Loompas.

Which is worse? You will have to decide for yourself.

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