Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Should You Plant Potatoes on Good Friday?

Last year one of my church members said that Good Friday was the day that many farmers in East Tennessee plant potatoes. I was curious about that, so I just asked the internet god and found a few interesting websites. This is from The Old Farmer's Almanac

Why did the old almanacs always recommend planting potatoes on Good Friday? We can't speak for other old almanacs, but certainly The Old Farmer's Almanac has never recommended planting potatoes on Good Friday; our only recommendation has been to plant by the dark of the Moon. Further, all our research has turned up contrary advice -- neither to plant nor to dig potatoes on Good Friday. It was thought the timing would produce poor crops. The Creoles of Louisiana believed that if the ground were cut open on this day, Christ's blood would run out into the rows. The only exception we found was an old belief that seeds planted on Good Friday will thrive.

The State Journal (Kentucky) wrote today, Good Friday, April 6, 2007 is a very good day to plant those spuds:

"More than likely you’ve heard that potatoes should be planted on Good Friday. Even folks who make fun of "planting by the moon" often follow the "potatoes on Good Friday" dictum. Well, this Good Friday, which is April 6, will be a "very good Friday" for planting those spuds. The moon will be in the dark phase then and the sign in Scorpio (the secrets), one of the four most fertile signs.

"Things don’t get no finer than that for planting spuds dark moon, fertile sign so if you like to raise your own go ahead and get some seed potatoes and 'long about Wednesday cut them up, with an eye in every piece, and let them "harden off" to be planted on April 6.

How did the tradition of planting potatoes on Good Friday begin? Truth About Trade & Technology says it goes back to the Irish:

Whatever the future holds, the origins of this Good Friday practice have their fascinating roots in the past--and specifically in the Irish past. Today, the people of Ireland are known for their super-sized love of potatoes: Every Irish man, woman, and child eats more than 250 pounds of them each year. In the 19th century, however, many Irish Protestants refused to eat potatoes on the grounds that they weren’t mentioned in the Bible. There’s a good reason for this: Potato cultivation first occurred in the pre-Columbian Andes Mountains, and it wasn’t until about 1570 that a potato made its first transatlantic crossing. Even then, the plant took a couple of centuries to catch on in Europe. The Irish were among the earliest adapters, but there remained this little problem with the Bible. So Irish Catholics came up with an ingenious solution: They planted their potatoes on Good Friday and claimed that the plants had been “baptized.” For some reason, this seemed to silence the objections. Although Irish Catholics and Protestants remain divided in fundamental ways, they all seem to enjoy their potatoes.

For more about potatoes, moon gardening, and when to plant you might check out The Dundee Messenger, Moon Gardening, and for fun, Appalachian Mountain Wisdom. The latter contains such gems as:

  • Plowing on Good Friday will cause the ground to bleed.
  • Friday is a good day to plant crops which dangle from branches because Friday is hangman's day.
  • Planting on Friday is bad luck, unless the zodiac sign is right.
  • Tobacco grows well if planted under the sign of Cancer.
  • Plant potatoes at night so that the eyes don't see light.
Back to Holy Week. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus spends six hours on the cross, from nine a.m. until three p.m. when he says his final words, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and breathes his last. I mentioned yesterday that according to some scholars, the last 24 hours of Jesus are broken up into eight three-hour segments. It was written for (or from) early liturgical observance. Last night we tried it. We broke up the readings into the three-hour segments. After each reading a bell would sound and we would observe a minute of silence. Then the bell would sound and we would sing a couple of verses from a hymn appropriate to the reading.

We started the service at 7:30 in the light and by the time we finished, around 8:20, it was dark. We left in silence. It was probably the most "traditional" Maundy Thursday service I have put together. Even though I am not into the subtitutionary atonement and Jesus dying for your sins theology, I do appreciate that story when it is done liturgically. It helps me face the darkness.

I think that the Gospel of Mark is a parable of discipleship. I have used the word "fiction" to describe it, even though history and fiction are modern terms. I don't mean to dismiss the gospel (or gospels) because of that designation, but in modern times when much of the church has regarded these texts as journalistic accounts, I find it helpful to appreciate them as literary creations.

A helpful book in this regard is Mary Ann Tolbert's Sowing the Gospel. Tolbert suggests that the parable of the seeds planted in the different types of soil is the guiding metaphor for the Gospel of Mark. It is the only parable that Jesus explains. The Gospel can be understood as the various characters representing the different types of ground. The hard ground that rejects the message, the stony ground in which the seed grows quickly but because of persecutions gets burned, the thorny ground in which the seed is choked by the cares of the world, and the good earth that produces fruit.

In the Gospel, few characters are good earth. Interestingly, none of the twelve is good earth. The only characters I can remember that Jesus (or Mark) praises are the following:

  • The Canaanite woman who in her persistence demands healing from Jesus,
  • The scribe who understands the greatest commandment is to love God and neighbor,
  • The unnamed woman who anoints his head "for burial,"
  • and finally the Roman centurion who at the death of Jesus says, "Truly this man was the Son of God." He is the only human who gives Jesus this designation. It is the Roman centurion who at the point of the death of Jesus, execution by his own hand as an instrument of Empire, realizes that the emperor is not the son of God, but Jesus is. The Empire represents peace through violence. The logical conclusion of peace through violence is the death of justice and the death of the innocent. Jesus represents peace through justice. The way of non-violence and love is the way of God's world if we would only see it. On Easter, we find that God has reversed the decision of Empire.

Have a blessed Good Friday and Easter!