Fishy Washington Times biz story

long john silvers 3 JPGI hope everyone is having a blessed Lazarus Saturday, which means that tomorrow is Palm Sunday. This is the rare year when the churches of the East and West will be celebrating Easter — Pascha in the East — on the same date.

So, for the East, Lent is ending and we are headed into a completely different fast — Holy Week. I never have understood the precise moment when, in the West, Lent ends and Holy Week begins. Is it Wednesday night? Do the two seasons overlap for several days? I didn’t learn much about that when I was growing up Southern Baptist (but I learned lots of other things, most of them good).

Anyway, I bring this up because the folks here at GetReligion rather enjoy off-the-beaten-path stories about the holy seasons of different faiths. So it is with a happy wink that I point you toward the front page of The Washington Times, where you will find a fun little piece of liturgical business news by reporter Jen Haberkorn.

It seems that there may be some people out there in Western pews who take Lent seriously after all. Here’s the top of the story:

Lent, the 40 days before Easter observed by Christians, can mean big bucks for fishy businesses.

Seafood restaurants, whether fast-food or white tablecloth, rake in the clams during the season, especially on Fridays, when Catholics are supposed to abstain from meat. Long John Silver’s, the largest seafood chain in the country, does about one-third of its annual business during Lent.

“It’s quite important,” said Keith Botner, marketing manager for Long John Silver’s. “We use this six- to seven-week time frame to hit home on our brand positioning.”

Traditionally, Catholics have eaten fish, instead of meat, as a form of sacrifice. … Long John Silver’s increases advertising during Lent and typically introduces a new product. This year, it’s an Alaskan flounder. The chain schedules extra staff and puts out product samples in the stores.

Wait, there’s more!

Other fast-food restaurants have gotten into the seafood game. McDonald’s, Arby’s, KFC, Popeyes and Burger King offer fish sandwiches. Just under one-quarter of McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish sandwiches are sold during Lent, the Oak Brook, Ill., chain said.

The season affects business in nicer establishments, as well. On Good Friday, says a Legal Sea Foods representative, business is usually up 300 percent over a normal Friday crowd, which is already a big day in the week for several reasons.

I am reminded of a story told by a former member of our church here in Linthicum, Md., whose work as a diplomat took his family to Greece. That culture retains clear signs of Orthodox influence, even though many of the people are totally assimilated and secular. Nevertheless, as he told the story, the McDonald’s restaurants in Greece do offer what the signs call a “McLent” menu.

Has anyone else seen any fun Lenten stories worth mentioning?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Str1977

    No fun Lenten stories but the information you required:

    In the West, Lent is the period leading up to Easter. It lasts forty days without the Sundays. It starts on Ash Wednesday and lasts until the day before Easter.

    Holy Week is simply the last week leading up to Easter, beginning on Palm Sunday.

  • Sean Gallagher

    In the Roman (as opposed the various Eastern) Catholic Churches, Lent officially ends with the celebration of Holy Thursday Mass, which happens in the evening. Good Friday is a day of fast and abstinence (no meat and only one full meal). There are no regulations regarding fasting on Holy Saturday, but my family, I believe approprately enough, breaks our fast only after the celebration of the Easter Vigil.

  • Martha

    Hey, a question I can answer!

    Holy Week is the week beginning with Palm Sunday leading into the Monday before Easter, the Tuesday before Easter, Spy Wednesday (as we call it here in Ireland), Maundy Thursday, and the Sacred Triduum of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

    As I understand it, Lent formally ends on Holy Saturday with the Solemn Easter Vigil (Mass of the Resurrection) – then again, I’m old enough that I’ve never quite gotten reconciled to the folding together of Passion Sunday and Palm Sunday. Good Friday is of course a day of fast and abstinence. As Sean says, there are no regulations regarding fasting on Holy Saturday (though formerly at least in Ireland it should have been a day of partial abstinence as a vigil immediately preceding or following a day of abstinence), but you’re really supposed to wait until Easter Sunday before breaking into the Easter Eggs ;-)

  • Martha

    At the start of February, there was this story that the head of KFC had written to the Pope asking him to bless the fish fillets they were going to serve in Lent (which, call me picky, seemed just a tad opportunistic on KFC’s part):


    In a statement released Feb. 18, Ash Wednesday, KFC said its president, Gregg Dedrick, sent a personal letter to the pope asking for a papal blessing for the KFC’s new Fish Snacker Sandwich, noting that the fast-food item “is ideal for American Catholics who want to observe Lenten season traditions while still leading their busy, modern lifestyles.”

    The company’s statement noted that Vatican officials confirmed receipt of the request concerning the $0.99 (USD) sandwich, adding that KFC “is hopeful to get the pope’s blessing this Lenten season.”

    “People can enjoy the flavor of the new Fish Snacker any day of the week, but we believe it will be especially popular on Fridays,” said James O’Reilly, chief marketing officer for KFC.”

    Or, if you’re in Michigan, you can eat muskrat and not break the laws of abstinence (and if you’re dying to know how best to serve it, or what goes best with it – beer, apparently, and I’d bet the more, the better – read the rest of the story):


    The custom of eating muskrat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays in Lent apparently goes back to the early 1800s, the time of Father Gabriel Richard, an early missionary in Michigan whose flock included French-Canadian trappers. Legend has it that because trappers and their families were going hungry not eating flesh during Lent, he allowed them to eat muskrat, with the reasoning that the mammal lives in the water.

    The story varies on just where in Michigan the dispensation extends. Among areas mentioned are along the Raisin River, along the Rouge River, both of which flow into Lake Erie south of Detroit, Monroe County in the southeast corner of Michigan, or all of southeast Michigan.

    The Detroit archdiocesan communications department said there is a standing dispensation for Catholics downriver — in Detroit’s southern suburbs and below — to eat muskrat on Fridays, although no documentation of the original dispensation could be found.

    A 2002 archdiocesan document on Lenten observances, in addition to outlining the general laws of fast and abstinence, says, “There is a long-standing permission — dating back to our missionary origins in the 1700s — to permit the consumption of muskrat on days of abstinence, including Fridays of Lent.”

    The prospect of eating muskrat, a foot-long rodent, might be less than appetizing to some, but to many people downriver it’s part of Lenten life.

    St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Newport holds a muskrat dinner every year to raise funds for the parish’s youth sports teams. The early February dinner includes sides of creamed corn and mashed potatoes. It features prizes donated by local merchants and serves up to several hundred dinners.”

  • Jeff

    TMatt, notice how you received two different answers? :)

    My recollection from my time as an AngloCatholic is that Lent does formally end at the Maundy Thursday Mass, upon which you enter into the Triduum, which is, I suspect, a vestige of the days when the West observed Great Lent the same as in the East.

    However, I also recall that the Episcopal approach was actually just to end Lent on Holy Saturday, which is what me pappy taught me.

  • Hans

    Recently, I was watching Ray Ramano on “Sit Down Comedy with David Steinberg”. Romano told a story that he wholeheartedly promised was true. His wife was born to Italian Immigrants and has a large super-Italian extended family. Apparently they have a 4 year old nephew who gave us cursing for Lent. I thought that was pretty funny.

  • Kristine J

    Every year during the Lenten Season, our local Television news runs a piece on the preponderance of Fish Fries on the Fridays of Lent. Last year, they even sent a reporter to the biggest and longest running events each Friday of Lent. These fish dinners are run by the local Catholic churches as fund raisers, mostly. Also by the Knights of Columbus and the catholic schools. Local tavern and other restaurants also get into the act by offering Friday Night Fish Specials. I thought it was mostly a central Wisconsin thing to have so many of these events. Even the Lutherans and the Calvinists observe fishy Fridays here, because of the cultural leanings. (The Presbyterians also do the Wednesday night soup suppers, but I’m thinking that’s not by decree of any Biblical or church authority.) By the way, I really like the Muskrat Decree response. A really interesting local solution that’s become a tradition!

  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Being Lutheran I never got into that no meat Fridays thing (although the Lutheran college I attended served fish on Fridays). As a seminary student I financed my education working at a motherhouse of the School Sisters of Notre Dame where the non-breakfast menus consiste of a tuna fish dish or grilled cheese.

    I also worked at McDonald’s during my student days. Those Fillet-o-fishes flew out the door on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

    For one year I was a KFC manager. No fish snackers in those days. But KFC’s famous cole slaw was a big seller on Good Friday–a whole line of cars through drive thru getting several quart buckets of cole slaw each.

    As a Lutheran we were taught the 40 days of Lent went from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (Saturday before Easter). Holy Week was the apex of this period and started Palm Sunday and lasted until Easter (Holy Week: Emotion in the Lutheran Church). As for fasting, well I watched the Sit Down Comedy episode cited and Ray Romano was somewhat amazed that the 4-year-old gave up cursing for Lent. It’s about as banal as giving up smoking, beer, alcohol, soda, “whoopie,” et. al. for Lent. I just know that Good Friday is a good day to go for a steak–no crowds.

  • Martha

    Jeff, it would seem that formally Lent does indeed end on Maundy Thursday. However, as Maundy Thursday was once a day of abstinence, Good Friday was a day of fast and abstinence, and Holy Saturday was a day of abstinence, you can see why the common people felt Lent didn’t really end until Easter Sunday.

    Introduction of chocolate Easter eggs only reinforced that impression :-)

  • Str1977 (commoner)

    Lent being the time leading up to Easter ends just before Easter. If you count the forty days, leaving out sundays, from Ash Wednesday you will also end up on Holy Saturday. It is a fallacy if one thinks Lent has to end because something else (be it Holy Week or the Triduum) begins.

    Holy Week IMHO also ends on Holy Saturday, as a week does beginn on Sunday and ends on a Saturday. One might include Easter Sunday as well, as the eighth day of the week (not the symbolism of eight as the number of resurrection) but Easter sunday also begins Eastertide and the week I would call Easter week.

  • Str1977 (commoner)

    “a vestige of the days when the West observed Great Lent the same as in the East”

    supposing, of course, that the West once followed the custom of the East that seems to be the one and only true way to go. (/sarcasm off)

  • lowly grunt

    How about this Lent story?

    Wild Bill rides again!

  • Amy Welborn

    I live in Fort Wayne Indiana, which has a large Catholic presence, but an even larger Lutheran presence – a Lutheran presence that is, for the most part, observant of Lent, etc.

    The grocery stores around here all run ads highlighting their deals for Lent – fish, in print and television. I was in a Taco Bell the other day and they had a special sign up advertising their Lenten specials (no fish – just meatless/beans, etc)

    Not something you’d find in Florida.

  • Todd Brogan

    I was in Taco Bell the other day in Madison, WI and was surprised to see a special Lent Menu at the joint. The sizeable Jewish population here is often treated with kosher, passover, and other options by consumer-sensitive businesses, but rarely is the Catholic community marketed to in such a specific way. I was pleasantly surprised to see that such a large business’s marketing team has its religious sensors tuned in to such an extent.

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  • Cassie

    This is why I read Get Religion religiously. Great article, great conversation in the responses.

    From here in Ohio, thanks.

  • Cassie

    Oops, that was supposed to go under the Flyover/Midwest story.

    In Orthodoxy, Lent ends at the last vespers/or Presanctified Liturgy on Friday before Lazarus Saturday. One of the songs sung comments that the fast is ending.

    But Lazarus Saturday is a fasting day, and Palm Sunday begins Holy Week. Holy Week is not considered part of Lent.

  • Chas S. Clifton

    I did drive by a Carl’s Jr. fast-food restaurant today whose outdoor sign read something like, “Enjoy Lent with a [name of fish dish].”

    Are you supposed to “enjoy” Lent?

  • Alexei

    Chas S. Clifton says:

    Are you supposed to “enjoy” Lent?

    Absolutely not! In addition to the regular fasting discipline held by Orthodox Christians, this year I gave up smiling for the Great and Holy Fast.

  • Chas S. Clifton

    Alexei, I am going to assume that yours is an April Fool’s Day comment. :-)

    But do correct me if I am wrong.

  • Sean Gallagher

    I forgot to note that I am a reporter for The Criterion, the newspaper of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

    Now, granted, we’re not part of the MSM, but, in a sense, the business end of Lent has an impact upon us. How? We have a regular advertising section during the weeks leading up to Easter called the “Lenten Dining Guide.”

    Also, we ran this article early in Lent that highlight family recipes for Lent and how they use them to pass on the faith to children.

  • Maureen

    Cartoon Network is running a Naruto Marathon on Holy Saturday/Passover.

    Now, I’m not saying that Naruto isn’t a show with both bad and good values in it. But magical ninja battles don’t really fit the season, IMHO. Also since they’re showing two new eps at a time when many anime fans of various faiths will be unlikely to view them, it’s sorta… weird and annoying.

    They also advertised a “Spring Break” promotional, running from Holy Week through the week after Easter. During said “Spring Break” they are giving out “Easter eggs”. (No Passover comments were made at all.)

    They live and work in a big religion-filled city like Atlanta, and this is how they program. Sigh. My head hurts.

  • NewTrollObserver

    This does explain why McDonald’s all of a sudden re-introduced the Double Filet-O-Fish:

    Filet-O-Fish: A whitefish fillet with tartar sauce and a 1/2-slice of cheese, on a steamed bun. It was introduced in Cincinnati in 1963 when it was discovered that many Catholics choose to eat at Frisch’s Big Boy on Friday, as it had a fish sandwich[citation needed].

    Double Filet-O-Fish: The same as the Filet-O-Fish, except with an extra fillet and a whole piece of cheese, not available at some locations.

  • Jerry

    “Easter” is actually “Pascha” or variants thereof in most Catholic countries as well. I say this to point out that most of the Church has a closer linguistic relationship with Byzantine terminology than the Anglo-Saxon world would let on.

    (It also is a nice counterpoint to those who like to claim that Easter is merely a Christianized form of the fertility goddes Eostre, as if that’s why the Solemnity got “invented” in the first place. It’s an oddity of the English-speaking world, nothing more.)

  • Mimi

    (This is my first time doing a clickable link, so please forgive me if I do it wrong) Fish fries lighten up is the Lenten story that I saw.

    Interesting about restaurants doing Lenten menus, I have to say, it’s not very common here in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Nickolas

    When I was in Greece during lent a few years ago, I was in a quandary about keeping the fast. In Ioannina I was waiting in line at a fast food place that sold gyros, souvlaki and all sorts of meat but not much that was obviously lenten. While I was looking undecidedly at what was on offer the rather large and hairy Hell’s Angel type in front of me asked for lenten gyros for him and his friends. When I finally remembered to close my mouth again and act unsurprised I realised that that is exactly what they got: a gyro sandwich minus anything not lenten but with some extra tahini sauce. How sure are we about the level of secularisation of Greek society?

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