If I have smashed the traditions, it was because I knew no traditions.
— Maude Adams
Today is Good Friday.
A couple of days ago I was in the supermarket and thought, ‘Better get something for lunch on Friday, nothing will be open.’
And so it was I found myself buying fish.
I didn’t look at anything else. I just went straight to the fish.
It was like being on auto-pilot.
Growing up, my family was not really a big ‘tradition’ family. Any traditions we did have were small and revolved around food.
We always had Nanna’s trifle at Christmas and Easter (and never any other time) — in fact, Christmas and Easter still don’t feel the same if there isn’t trifle.
Christmas lunch was always with Mum’s side of the family, supper with Dad’s side. That was easy back then because we were all in Canberra. With the exodus of many relatives to warmer climes, this ‘tradition’ has gone.
And — Good Friday always meant fish for lunch.
Now, you may not think this is so strange. Plenty of people stick to the ‘fish on Good Friday’ rule. The thing is — my family were not religious. Not even remotely so. And, for this reason, I could never understand why we had to have fish on Good Friday. (My angst about this was made worse by the fact I did not like fish.)
When I questioned my mother about it, the conversation went like this:
‘Why do we have to have fish?’
‘Because it’s Good Friday.’
‘But why do we need to eat fish on Good Friday.’
‘Because that’s what you do.’
End of conversation.
I didn’t get it. I knew it had something to do with religious beliefs; but we weren’t religious so I failed to see why it had to apply to us. We didn’t pray, we didn’t go to church … yet we had to eat fish on Good Friday.
Even when you don’t understand them, family traditions have this strange way of grabbing hold of you and not letting go.
When I first moved out of home I thought, ‘Here is my opportunity to break this silly Good Friday Fish Eating tradition.’ So I did.
My first Good Friday alone, I sat down to a piece of chicken. I told nobody I was doing this. As far as my mother knew, I was having fish.
It took me a long, long time to finish my meal. I kept poking at the chicken and cutting of tiny chunks. I felt this sense of foreboding that something bad was going to happen. I kid you not.
Afterwards, I felt like an idiot.
The following year, I tried it again — this time with lamb.
I had the same reaction!!
It was inexplicable. I told myself I was being unreasonable. I am not religious — one day should not dictate what I can or can’t eat.
From that year on I conceded defeat in my battle against tradition — I always have fish on Good Friday.
The conversation between myself and my kids has gone like this:
‘What are we having for lunch?’
‘Can we have something else if we want?’
‘Because it’s Good Friday.’
So this year, I explained to them exactly what happened and why I have to serve fish on Good Friday.
They think I’m crazy.
But, for my own peace of mind and because it was a learning opportunity, I have also now Googled ‘Why do we eat fish on Good Friday?’ Here is the reason:
“Because Christ sacrificed His flesh on Good Friday, we abstain from eating flesh.” This is why many people eat fish on Good Friday instead.
So why is fish allowed? Firstly, fish is from the sea so it is a ‘different’ kind of flesh. Secondly, the symbol of the fish is how early Christians recognised each other. Thirdly, the second reason is linked to the fact many of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, both literally and figuratively.
And that’s why you must eat fish on Good Friday.
So now, after 40 plus years, I know.
I still don’t understand why we had to do it.
I still don’t fully understand why I continue to do it.