Discover the meaning behind Lent – from when it starts to its origins

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Pancake Day is done and dusted, which means today is Ash Wednesday – which marks the start of Lent.

Every year practicing Christians will abide by the rules of Lent for six weeks before Easter.

Because Easter is a “moveable feast”, it shifts around the calendar each year. To find out when Easter is and why it moves around, see our guide.

Easter is one of the most important times of year for many Christians around the world.

But what exactly is Lent? Here we explore its origins, and why people give up certain foods at this time of year.

What is Lent?

Beginning on February 17 this year, Lent is a six and half-week period leading up to Easter Sunday.

Though it is commonly referred to as the "40 days of Lent", the period actually lasts 46 days, though 40 of those are fasting days while six are Sundays.

Lent is not seen as a "celebration" as such, it is seen as a time of solemn observance as you prepare for the jubilation of the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter.

From the moment Lent begins on Ash Wednesday until its conclusion on Maundy Thursday, it is traditional during Lent to give up something, to fast or to use the period as a time for abstinence.

This year, Lent begins on Wednesday, February 17 and ends on Monday, March 29.

Lent is an old English word defined as "lengthen".

Occasionally called the "Lenten Season", the period is always observed in spring as the days begin to get longer.

The story behind Lent

The actual word "Lent" has ties to the Anglo Saxon era, originating from the word "lencten" which means spring.

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The period last 40 days as a tribute to the amount of time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry.

Lent is a festival of self-discipline, designed to prompt Christians to remember Jesus's fasting in the desert. It is a time dedicated to giving things up.

Members of the Catholic church are not allowed to eat meat or poultry on Ash Wednesday or any Friday during Lent, though eating fish is permitted.

Almost everyone who participates in Lent will aim to refrain from eating meat for the entirety of the 40-day period.

How to participate in Lent

Many Christians see Lent as a chance to try and abstain from particular foods or certain habits.

The fasting is designed to mirror the experience of Jesus Christ and his experience of fasting in the desert.

In previous years, it was commonplace for Christians to fast during the 40 days of Lent – this meant they would only allow themselves to eat one full meal a day.

However, recently it is more traditional for participants to choose to abstain from one item in particular, whether it be a junk food item like chocolate and cake or a particular habit like excessive drinking or smoking.

Given most people's dependence on their phones, others may opt to try and give up social media.

What does Shrove Tuesday mean?

Though it is perhaps more commonly known as Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday falls the day before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday.

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Due to the fact that Shrove Tuesday always falls 47 days before Easter Sunday, the date of Pancake Day varies each year.

Why is Ash Wednesday called Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday will fall 46 days prior to Easter Sunday.

This is the day where Christians and Catholics will don a smudge of ashes on their foreheads.

It is also a day designed to allow Christians to confess their sins while showing their devotion to God.

  • Jesus
  • Easter

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