Give up the rim (for Lent) to win

February 22, 2012

This was printed last year in the local newspaper, and I’ve modified it to fit Lent this year.  Every year it boggles my mind that Roll up the Rim coincides with Lent.

Old fashioned church stuff is dying.  Various media outlets love to repeat this news.  Some people within the church don’t believe this news or they do and they’re fighting to change it.  But even in the church there are those who celebrate the demise of long celebrated Christian religious rituals.  But did you know that one of these old, almost forgotten rituals is keeping one of the largest companies in Canada on its knees?

Every year around this time, you might hear about people giving something up for Lent, but usually they would have trouble explaining what exactly exactly is behind the practice.  Lent is a 40-day stretch of time running from Ash Wednesday (more commonly known as the day after Mardi Gras) to Easter Morning, February 22nd April 8th this year.  The idea behind the modern Lenten fast is that people give up something they like and when they feel the urge to have that thing, they are supposed to think about God and their reliance on/relationship with God.  It’s usually most effective if the thing they give up is something they’ve sorta convinced themselves that they need or are semi-addicted to.  The problem of course is that it requires a person to admit that they are half addicted to something.

I usually don’t participate in the Lenten fast in any way. This year, instead of giving something up, I am taking something up.  I will be blogging in one way or another on each of the 40 days of Lent. I believe that writing is a spiritual exercise. I also believe that writing is one of many things that one gets better at with practice, so I’m writing in different way and about different subjects than I normally do so that I get better at it.

Historically the church asked people to give up meat for Lent.  So then the last day before Lent people would want to have a feast and use up a lot of the grease they had been saving from cooking meat.  They couldn’t think of a better way to use this all up than to have a meal of pancakes (neither can I really).  That explains the pancake suppers at Christian churches; I won’t even try to explain the Mardi Gras hoopla in New Orleans.

I don’t feel particularly convicted about this lapse in Lenten conviction.  I come from a proud tradition of Lent non-observers.  A long time ago, a group of people in Zurich, publicly and intentionally broke the Lenten fast and ate sausages together.  I consider myself to be part of that school of thought.  If I ever started a Christian basketball team, I’d like to call them the “Fast Breakers.”  Many Christians believe though that if there is something you can give up in your life to bring you closer to God, you should give it up no matter what time of year it is and not start up using it again 40 days later.

There are a few things that are given up more often than french fries to.  In high school I knew many girls who had a penchant for chocolate and gave it up for Lent, which worked out nicely so that they could binge on the stuff as soon as Easter rolled around.  But there is perhaps no greater quasi-addiction in our society than coffee.

Coffee is exactly the kind of thing that people should give up for Lent, it’s not particularly sinful on its own, and the cravings one might get for it would be a great reminder of one’s relationship with God.  Historically there has been a dip in coffee sales at this time of year.  Could it be because of Lent?  But besides the addiction most people refuse to admit they have, there is something that interferes with people’s willingness to give up coffee at this time of year.

To combat this dip, Tim Hortons launched a promotional campaign 25 years ago.  It was so successful that it has been running every year since then.  It does make me wonder if it is worth the cost to Tim Hortons.  The cost of extra advertising and all the prizes and fraud prevention stuff can’t really generate that much extra sales can it?  Especially since coffee and their brand of coffee in particular are so deeply engrained into the Canadian psyche.

Religious institutions are continually losing their grip on societal influence in this country, particularly the ones that would advocate a ritual Lenten observance.  Still, Lent has a transcendent power, even among people outside of Christian institutional religion.  If Tim Hortons gave up their Roll up the Rim campaign, more people would consider giving up coffee for Lent.  Since the company and its shareholders can’t afford interruptions in the profits, they can’t stop the promotion because people might use Lent or any other reason to stop drinking their coffee.  Is this an example of businesses interfering with Christian practice or a story of spirituality working under the surface?  I like to think it’s the latter.

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