WTF Fun Fact 13254 – Eating Herring on Ash Wednesday

Did you know this random historical fact about Mardi Gras week? One of its many traditions is eating herring on Ash Wednesday!

Why do people eat herring on Ash Wednesday?

In some countries, it is traditional to eat herring or other salty fish on Ash Wednesday. Some believe the salt helps absorb the alcohol consumed on Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday.

The tradition is particularly popular in Germany and other European countries. There, they believe that eating herring can help to prevent a hangover.

However, there is little scientific evidence to support this claim. It remains unclear how effective eating herring actually is in preventing a hangover. Nonetheless, the tradition persists as a quirky and amusing part of Ash Wednesday in some parts of the world.

Other random traditions

In addition to the tradition of eating herring or other salty fish on Ash Wednesday, there are other quirky traditions from around the world.

In some parts of England, it is traditional to eat pancakes on the day before Ash Wednesday. It’s actually known as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. Historians believe this tradition originated as a way to use up rich ingredients like eggs, butter, and sugar before the fasting period of Lent began.

In Germany, it is traditional to burn old branches or tree trunks on Ash Wednesday. Germans call this custom “Strohfeuer,” which translates to “straw fire.” Burning old branches is meant to symbolize the burning away of sins and a new, fresh start.

In some parts of the Philippines, it is traditional to attend a “Pabasa.” This is a 24-hour recitation of the passion of Christ. The Pabasa is often held in a private home or chapel and is accompanied by singing and other forms of devotion.

What is Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is a Christian holy day. It marks the start of the season of Lent, which culminates in the celebration of Easter. It falls on the first day of Lent, which is always a Wednesday, and is observed by many Christian denominations, including Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists.

The name “Ash Wednesday” comes from the practice of marking the foreheads of worshipers with ashes. People make the ashes by burning the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. They are a symbolic reminder of the mortality of human beings and the need for repentance and forgiveness.

Ash Wednesday and Carnival traditions that culminate in Mardi Gras have always been linked. These mark the end of the revelry and the beginning of the penitential season of Lent.

Ash Wednesday and the traditions of Carnival and Lent evolved together over time. The earliest references to the observance of Ash Wednesday date back to the 8th century. In fact, we can trace the roots of Carnival back to ancient Roman festivals celebrating the coming of spring. Over time, these two traditions became intertwined and evolved into the celebrations we know today.  WTF fun facts

Source: “‘Haringhappen’: the Dutch tradition of eating raw herring” — Aronson Delftware

WTF Fun Fact 12692 – The Monarchy Takes A Hostage

The word “hostage” seems a bit harsh, but that’s precisely what a British tradition was meant to imply.

The British monarchy began to share power with a legislative branch of government way back in 1215, with the signing of the Magna Carta. But over the centuries, the royals have become less “heads of state” and more “figureheads.”

Even though relations between the monarchy and the British government are good, Buckingham Palace maintains a centuries-old tradition (going back to 1600) of taking a member of British Parliament “hostage” to ensure the monarch’s safe return when they make a speech at Parliament. Most recently, MP James Morris was taken “hostage” in May 2022 when Prince Charles delivered a speech on behalf of the Queen.

However, that wasn’t the case in the 1600s, when King Charles I argued back and forth with parliament about how much power they should have. The people wanted a constitutional monarchy and the royals…well, they didn’t for obvious reasons.

There’s lots of detail we’re leaving out here (like an entire English Civil War, and a Second English Civil War), but the important part is that, in the end, Charles I was delivered to Parliament, where they proceeded to try him for treason, convict him, and execute him. Then for good measure, they abolished the monarchy.

So, as you might imagine, the monarchy is a little sensitive about the whole thing and while it looks like a nice joke to the rest of the world now, it’s rooted in something much more serious. Still, all the “hostage”-taking is agreed upon in advance and no one is in danger these days.

But the whole reason we’re here is that this tradition came to light on May 2, 2022, when Prince Charles gave a speech at the opening of Parliament on behalf of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen is suffering from intermittent mobility issues, so much of the royal family went in her place. And they did, indeed, take a ceremonial “hostage.” Conservative MP James Morris said he was the designated hostage this time around. Below, you can find him giving an explanation of the whole tradition. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Buckingham Palace has a centuries-old tradition of taking an MP hostage when the Queen or one of her representatives enter Parliament” — Yahoo News

WTF Fun Fact 12596 – Martin Luther’s Christmas Tree

Christmas trees are a pagan tradition that predates Christianity (and, therefore, Christmas). That might lead someone knowledgeable about theology or Christian history to believe that the Protestant reformer Martin Luther wasn’t a fan since he wasn’t exactly known for going all-out on the holidays.

In the 16th century, so the story goes, Martin Luther was taking a Christmastime walk and was inspired by the twinkling stars above him. That’s when he got the idea to gussy up a Christmas tree. He used candles, of course, since they didn’t have those infuriating strings of lights yet.

It became a wider German tradition after that (since Martin Luther was also known for spreading his ideas around). And when German emigrated all over Europe and North America, they brought that tradition with them.

Decorated trees became an even more visible tradition when Queen Charlotte introduced the practice to her new husband, King George III, and his English court in the mid-18th century. After that, Queen Victoria’s Christmas tree was illustrated in an 1848 edition of Illustrated London News. That immediately made it more fashionable.

The tradition of lighting up Christmas trees probably came to the US around the 18th century as well when Hessian troops came to back up the British during the Revolutionary War. When German immigrants moved over in later decades under more polite circumstances, they reinvigorated the trend that others then found fascinating and decided to copy.

So just remember to blame Martin Luther when you’re untangling those lights next Christmas. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Why do we have Christmas trees? The surprising history behind this holiday tradition” — National Geographic