Lent is a mystery to a lot of people. Many folks generally are aware that it’s a religious observance that happens every Spring and somehow involves people getting ashes smeared on their forehead and/or giving up chocolate, a favorite beverage, even Facebook until Easter. But, like most practices rooted in Christianity, the way people observe Lent, or, even if they don’t observe it at all, does vary wildly depending upon such factors as one’s heritage, specific religious tradition and/or preferences.
Still, there are some rules and guidelines that mark the observance of Lent for Christians who observe the season. And, increasingly even nonreligious people are picking up the ritual. Here’s an overview that will begin with a basic, fundamental question: “What is Lent?”
Lent is the greatest and most solemn period of fasting on the Christian church’s calendar, leading up to the celebration of Christianity’s greatest feast day – Easter.
The easiest way to understand the church calendar is as a sort of immersive theater, designed to reenact the life of Jesus every year from Christmas (birth) to Easter (resurrection). During that time, readings in traditional churches revisit stories from the gospels that focus on those events in Jesus’s life. Following Easter is a 50-day “Easter Season” culminating in Pentecost, and then a season called either the Pentecost Season or “Ordinary Time,” which lasts until Advent begins, usually around the end of November.
As Advent is the season of anticipation leading up to the great feast day of Christmas, Lent is the season that precedes the greatest feast day – Easter. Easter is the day which marks the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection and triumph over death. “He is Risen - risen indeed!”
And, for those of you who are serious students of the English language, Lent got its name from the Old English word len(c)ten which means “spring season.”