Editor’s Log Polka Date March 2021.
Polka and waltz music is primarily practiced by those of the Catholic religion. This writer was raised by Anglo-Saxon Protestant parents in Schulenburg, a predominantly Czech-German Catholic community. By not being exposed to the seemingly infinite rituals of the Catholic Church, I was blind to certain occurrences that were natural to my friends around me who just took it for granted. Easter, to me, was about the Easter Bunny and its byproduct, and having to go to church on a Sunday morning wearing a clip-on tie. The school cafeteria served fish sticks on Fridays, which were tolerable with ketchup and we got out of school for something called Good Friday, to me it was good cause I got out of school and as far as I knew Lent was what I got out of the clothes drier.
My first inkling of the existence of Lent was attending Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans in the early 1970s. The newspaper, magazine stories, etc. enlightened me of the reasoning of the intemperance that was being promoted prior to and on Fat Tuesday, Laissez les bons temps rouler – Let the good times roll.
During Lent, many Christians commit to forgoing various foods, as well as giving up certain luxuries in order to replicate the account of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ's journey into the desert for 40 days. It is not exclusive to the Catholic Church, but in our geographic area it is most noticeable. The practice was quite widespread until the mid-1900s, but the most devoted Catholics still carry it on. I know a guy who is normally a drinking and dancing dervish, but during Lent, he is sober and doesn’t dance, but does attend dances and has a lot of fun.
I became enlightened to the practice of taking a break from dances when several years ago, I was asking questions to a grand old statesman of polka about “the old days”. I had noticed in my research that there was a plethora of dances held on Easter Sunday and/or Monday, but none the month before (I had written it off as no data available). My upbringing suggested that Easter was a Holy day, and solemnity would be observed. He gave me an amazed look and said that Lent was now over and we were ready to party! Click, on went the lightbulb and the absence of March dances became clear. He said that his father was so strict that he couldn’t even listen to the radio except for the news and weather during Lent.
Very few dance advertisements actually mentioned Lent, they referred to a dance held on the day before Ash Wednesday as “The Last Dance of the Season” and there were many dances held on Fat Tuesday until midnight. They did advertise Easter dances compete with Easter egg hunts and games for the children. The same held true for Advent in November and December. Of course, the rules were never observed steadfastly, Baca’s New Deal Orchestra, played six dances in March of 1935, after Ash Wednesday. In the 1930’s Brunswick was a major record label, and their advertisement proclaimed the Easter is coming soon and listed the records that one should buy to keep up with the latest music trend.
The last decade or so it appears that it is mostly a personal commitment as to how a person should observe Lent and that is why we live in America.