Today, the first Sunday of Lent, was formerly known in Ireland as Chalk Sunday.
According to Fiona Byrne, curator of history at the Ulster Folk Museum, the practice dates back to the early 1900s.
“When unmarried women walked to and from Mass, little boys would draw Xs on the backs of their coats and gowns. They might have touched them on the shoulder or powdered them with chalk.
“That implied that you were unable to marry, which was actually rather cruel.
The old English word for Lent means to prolong. In the spring, as the days start to get longer, we observe Lent. It enables Christians to reflect on Jesus’ desert fast. Giving things up and exercising self-control are required during this time.
The festival of Shrove or Pancake Day coincides with the ancient Irish custom of Chalk Sunday. In anticipation of the six-week period of fasting, penitence, and denial, people rejoiced and had weddings on Tuesday, the final day before Lent began.
During Lent, staunch Catholics in Ireland abstained from eating meat, eggs, dairy products, alcohol, and even sex. There was no enjoyment in music or celebration. It was customary to store musical instruments for the six weeks of Lent.
Prior to Lent, Shrove Tuesday was traditionally the last day for weddings, according to Ms. Byrne. Priests would have been in high demand leading up to Shrove Tuesday.
Single people were seen as having neglected their societal obligation to get married and were of lower social standing.
As a result, Chalk Sunday concentrated on the single.
Women’s responsibilities at the time were to marry, have children, and maintain a home, according to Ms. Byrne.
“Women accomplished a lot more than that. But as for marriage, it might not have worked out for certain ladies. The phrase “spinster” is deplorable.”
Chalk Sunday was not a well-liked custom in Ulster. She claimed that in the early 20th century, it was more prevalent in the south-western region of Ireland.
There may have also been cat calls and public jeers.
In certain regions of the Republic of Ireland, particularly Cork and Kerry, Skellig Night was a prominent aspect of Shrove Tuesday.
After dusk, raucous mobs poured onto the streets of cities, making fun of the single folk and admonishing them to “go to the Skelligs.”
According to legend, the Skellig islands off the coast of County Kerry still follow the old calendar, therefore Ash Wednesday would come there later. This would give those who were unmarried enough time to travel there and get married before Lent started.
Sometimes, masked individuals would call single people’s houses and attempt to drag them out onto the streets.
The “Pus Sunday”
The day was also known as Pus Sunday because the Irish term for scowl is “pus,” and individuals who were single were thought to wear a scowl to show their displeasure at being alone.
Salt Monday was the day following Chalk Sunday.
According to Ms. Byrne, “Salt Monday” was a day when girls who did not succeed in finding a husband would have salt thrown at them in an effort to “preserve” them until the end of Lent.
“It was stating that they would be kept still until they were “ripe.” Yet, this was more amusing than getting an X on your back as you were returning from Mass.”
She said that Salt Monday specifically targeted women.
“It’s an allusion to women’s menstrual periods. Men don’t have clocks, thus there was no need to maintain them.”