Millions of people around the world will observe Lent on Wednesday.
For many unbelievers it is often associated with giving up chocolate or alcohol after a night of pancakes, but for Christians it is viewed as a time of spiritual preparation to get closer to God in the run-up to Easter
Not all Christian denominations observe Lent in the same way, and certain days are excluded from the period.
Here is everything you need to know about Lent, from its significance to the traditions that worshipers follow today.
When does Lent start?
Lent in western churches begins on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday (pancake day for many others).
In 2021, it starts on February 17th and ends on Thursday April 1st.
The date varies each year and starts either in late February or early March.
The reason Lent and Easter are movable – since they don’t fall on the same date every year in the Gregorian or Julian calendar, unlike Christmas – is because they follow the cycle of the sun.
Instead, the date for Easter is determined by the lunar calendar, which in turn is based on the phases of the moon.
Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox on March 20th. This is the moment when the sun goes from south to north over the imaginary line in the sky above the earth’s equator.
This means that Easter in Western Christianity always falls between March 22nd and April 25th.
What is Lent?
Lent is treated by Christians as a time of reflection and fasting of food and feasts in the 40 days leading up to Easter.
It remembers when Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert despite being tempted.
When does Lent end?
There is no single answer to that.
For Western churches, the 40-day period ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. However, liturgical Lent ends two days earlier on Maundy Thursday.
Technically, Lent actually lasts 46 days, but Sundays are not included.
The six Sundays are known as “mini Easter”, which celebrates Jesus’ victory over sin and death.
What do people give up for Lent?
Most believers have a tendency to give up something for Lent because it “cleanses” their bodies.
For children, this could mean not eating chocolate or candy, or giving up on television or a favorite toy. Adults tend to give up things like alcohol, coffee, or smoking, but some households may give up meat, eggs, and dairy products.
Others may donate money to a good cause or volunteer with a charity.
What is Shrove Tuesday? When is it in 2021?
This year’s Shrove Tuesday – known by millions of people as Pancake Day – takes place on February 16.
The official name comes from the word “Shrive”, which means absolution for sins through repentance. Christians traditionally tried to be “shrunk” before Lent by going to confession, where they confessed their sins and asked a priest for absolution.
A bell would be rung to call her to confession. This was called the “pancake bell” and is still rung today.
Pancakes have been associated with the day when worshipers consumed rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar prior to their fast for Lent.
What is Ash Wednesday?
The day after Shrove Tuesday is called Ash Wednesday and it is a day when the soul is purified when Lent begins.
Ashes, the burned remains of palm crosses from Palm Sunday the previous year, are used to mark a cross on the foreheads of churchgoers to symbolize repentance for sin.
It is also meant to serve as a reminder that death comes for everyone.