As to the scriptures, “There is a time for everything” Ecc 3:1. In the Orthodox and Catholic Churches there are seasons set for fasting. One of these seasons is the Great fast,Lent, known as “Abi Xom” in Tigrinya.
Literally fasting is abstaining from food (eating and drinking) as a religious duty that is required of all believers.
During Lent, the Church is open every day, for longer periods (4 am-22:30pm) with the church service held at noon. Followers fast during the 55 day Lenten period. No dairy products, meats, fish or eggs are eaten. Much of what is practised in the Orthodox or Catholic Churches today has been in practice for hundreds of years and is based on passages found in the Bible.
Fasting is an act of sacrifice, which means an act of self-denial and humiliation under the hands of God. It is denying comfort to our flesh, but feeding strength to our spiritual personality. As St. John Chrysostom put it, “fasting implies not only abstinence from food, but from sins. The fast, he insists, should be kept not by the mouth alone but also by the eye, the ear, the feet, the hands and all the members of the body: the eye must abstain from impure sights, the ear from malicious gossip, the hands from acts of injustice.” Like all our faithful fathers we do also fast to ask God for the safe journey of our Christian faith.
Days leading up to Easter, rituals start with Hossanna (Palm Sunday). It is one of the most important days in the Christian calendar and marks the beginning of the Holy Week, immediately preceding the week of events leading up to Good Friday and Easter. Palm Sunday derives its name simply from the palm branches that were waived by the crowds of people and strewn in the path of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem for the Passover riding on a donkey. They shouted: ‘Hosanna!’ (Liberate us) believing that Jesus was the Messiah coming to free them from Roman oppression. As a symbol of their faith and devotion, many Christians keep the palm crosses which are distributed during Palm Sunday service and hang them in their houses through the year.
On Palm Sunday, people in Eritrea are accustomed to crafting rings from palm leaves. In many churches and other parts of the world congregants twist palms into the shape of a cross to commemorate the day, or use other branches if palms are not easily accessible– in some parts of Europe, churchyards are strewn with branches and flowers. The holiday is often celebrated with a procession. Palm Sunday signifies the beginning of the last week of Lent — and the beginning of the Holy Week.
And then there is H’mamat (Passion or the Suffering of Jesus Christ from the Last Supper until his Crucifixion). Many people abstain from worldly things like dancing and boozing. The days after Hosanna are a bit gloomy.
However, Hamus Tsgbo (Maundy Thursday) seems to brighten things up a little bit. Maundy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter, believed to be the day when Jesus celebrated his final Passover with His disciples. Most notably, that Passover meal was when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples in an extraordinary display of humility. He then commanded them to do the same for each other. In Eritrea, Maudy Thursday is traditionally celebrated by eating boiled legumes, which are given to children and adults alike. One can eat as much as one likes.
Then comes Arbi Siklet (Good Friday). Some people wear the Christ’s thorn or Spina Christ, a spreading shrub of the GABA, around their head. People go to church and repeat Kyrie Eleison until four or five in the afternoon. Good Friday is observed as a strict fast, Christians are expected to abstain from all food and drink the entire day to the extent that their health permits.
In Eritrea, when Church services are over, mostly at six or seven in the afternoon, everyone goes home and gathers as a family and break the fast together. After eating, the whole family has coffee while the little ones drink tea or juice.