By Brynmor Pattison
If you’ve been giving something up for Lent this year, don’t worry – it’s not long now.
Millions of Christians have been celebrating Lent for nearly a week now.
It’s a time of the year that many non-believers may associate with fasting or abstinence.
But there is a lot more to the religious observance than giving up something, as it is regarded as a period of spiritual preparation to grow closer to God in the run-up to Easter.
Certain days are excluded from Lent, and many Christian denominations observe the period in different ways.
Here is everything you need to know about Lent – from the meaning behind it to the traditions that many worshippers follow.
- When does Lent begin?
For Western churches Lent begins every year on Ash Wednesday, the day after Pancake Tuesday.
This year it began on February 14 – the same day as Valentine’s Day. The date varies from year to year, starting in either late February or early March.
- When does Lent finish?
This depends where you are. For Western churches the 40-day period of Lent ends on Holy Saturday (March 31), the day before Easter.
But the liturgical season of Lent ends two days earlier on Holy Thursday (March 29).
For Eastern churches it ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday.
- Why does it move?
Easter feast days are moveable days, in that they don’t fall on a fixed date in the normal Gregorian or Julian calendars, which follow the cycle of the sun.
Easter instead is determined by the lunar calendar, which is based on the phases of the moon.
Easter is scheduled to fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox around March 20.
The Spring, or March, Vernal Equinox is the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator – from south to north.
So, in Western Christianity, Easter will always fall between March 22 and April 25.
However, for Eastern Orthodox churches it begins on Clean Monday (Feb 19 this year), two days before Western churches.
- What is Lent?
Lent takes place every year in the 40 days leading up to Easter, and is treated as a period of reflection and a time for fasting from food and festivities.
The fasting period is to remember when Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days despite being tempted.
- What days are excluded from Lent?
Lent technically lasts 46 days, but Sundays are not included in the overall count.
That means it is observed for 40 days in the run-up to Easter, and is often a time when instead of fasting people will give up certain food and drink such as chocolate and alcohol.
The six Sundays are not counted because each one is seen as a “mini-Easter” celebrating Jesus’ victory over sin and death.
- What do people give up for Lent?
Lent is traditionally marked with fasting, abstinence and prayer.
Most believers tend to give up something until Lent ends to “purify” their bodies.
For children it could be something such as chocolate, sweets, television or certain toys, while adults tend to give up things such as alcohol, coffee or smoking.
Some households may give up meat, eggs and dairy products.
Many believers use the time to volunteer at a charity or donate money to a good cause.
Brynmor Pattison is the deputy online editor of Irish Mirror