When you have feasted on a flurry of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday , should you consider giving up something for Lent?
Although Lent has been observed for millennia, there is still sometimes confusion over how long it lasts for and exactly what it means.
If you are planning to fast from alcohol, chocolate, cigarettes or crisps for 40 days, our guide might help you put it all into context:
What is Lent?
In a nutshell, Lent is the 40 days before Easter in the Christian calendar.
When does Lent begin?
This year, Lent begins on Wednesday, February 18. It is called Ash Wednesday and always follows Shrove Tuesday , which is seen as the last chance to feast before Lent begins.
When does Lent end?
This year, the last day of Lent is Thursday, April 2, ahead of Good Friday.
Why is Ash Wednesday so called?
Covering one’s head with ashes is an ancient Biblical tradition. On Ash Wednesday churchgoers are marked on the forehead with a cross of ashes, to symbolise repentance for sin and to clean the soul ready for Lent.
The ashes also signify the fact that death comes to everyone, people should regret their sins and change for the better, and that without God, people would be nothing more than dust and ashes.
Why do people observe Lent?
Traditionally Christians treat Lent as a period of reflection, marked by fasting from food and festivities, ahead of Easter. It replicates the time when Jesus Christ withdrew into the desert for 40 days ahead of his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, which is celebrated on Easter Sunday.
Today, few people fast for the entire period and it has become more common to use Lent as an an opportunity to give up a vice such as alcohol or cigarettes, or a favourite food.
What does the word Lent actually mean?
In old English it means ‘lengthen’.
Why is the colour purple synonymous with Lent?
During Lent some churches hang purple drapes and frontals. This is because purple is the colour of royalty and is used to celebrate Christ’s sovereignty, and also because purple is associated with mourning, symbolising the pain and suffering of the crucifixion.