Sigh, long days. With the social distancing and quarantines that we experience during this pandemic, the days do seem to get long. For some, this is a welcomed opportunity to catch up on put-off projects or cleaning, for others it seems like there is little to do except clean up the hair all over the floor that you tore out. I just got an email with some clever quips about the current situation. “I wonder if God got so mad about all of our fighting down here that He sent us to our rooms?” or “This is the day dogs have been waiting for. They realize their owners can’t leave the house and they get them 24/7. Dogs are rejoicing everywhere. Cats are contemplating suicide,” or maybe the one that sums it up best – “The truth is, it’s not so boring at home. But it’s interesting that one bag of rice has 7,456 grains and another has 7,489.”
In the midst of this season, some are also experiencing the season of Lent. Lent is the 40 day period in which the church reflects on the time before the death and resurrection of Christ. So recently, I discovered that the word Lent comes from “lencten”, the Anglo Saxon or Old English term for “long days.” We get the word “lengthen” from it. The Anglo Saxons didn’t have clocks. They observed the obvious. The sun rose earlier and set later in the spring of the year. According to Bede, 8th century historian and scholar, and later Aelfric, Anglo Saxon prose writer, the Anglo Saxons had four seasons: lencten or lenctentid was spring or spring time, sumor was summer, hærfest was harvest or autumn, and winter remained our word winter. Bede wrote that winter was over for the Anglo Saxon on February 7. On February 7, 2020, the London sunrise was 7:29 am and sunset was 5:01 pm. That doesn’t seem like a real long day. Now, April 1 is a different story. Sunrise was at 6:35 am and sunset at 7:34 pm. So with 13 hours of light, you could call April 1 a truly long day. So what did these early English speakers do with their “lencten”?
A typical Anglo Saxon’s spring workday would consist of feeding the animals, planting, plowing, and of course eating, all of which needed daylight. There was plenty to keep these people busy attaining their yearly goal of a good harvest. April was called Eostremonath or Eostre month. Eostre, according to Bede, was a pagan goddess of rebirth. Her image is associated with Hares and Eggs, both symbols of new life. The name probably stems from the Germanic Ostara, from the Greek goddess of dawn, Eos, and ultimately, from a Proto-Indo-European goddess of dawn.
You may have noticed that the name of this goddess sounds an awful lot like Easter. Well, the Christian missionaries didn’t want to abolish all pagan traditions as they shared their new ideas, so they translated the new birth of the earth in the celebration of the spring season into the message of the death and resurrection of Christ. The church kept the pagan name “Easter” for the Sunday celebration. And somehow the little pagan bunnies and eggs of the Eostre celebration, also survived.
After the darkness and cold of winter, April was considered the apex of new life. Not only did the Anglo Saxon peasant have the joy of increased sunlight, but animals usually gave birth at this time. With the warmer days and the first flowers blooming, April has always signaled that the world is changing for the better. Easter is often in April. Scholars have proven through historical record, geological research, and the computer studies of the ancient positions of stars, that Jesus Christ was indeed crucified on April 3, 33 A.D.
So celebrate April! Celebrate the looooong days. Celebrate the light! Things could be worse. You could be an Anglo Saxon with no electricity. Then you would really be enjoying the “lenctenid.”