Did you know that Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Carnival, Pancake Day, Pączki Day, and many more are all names for a historically much more solemn day? Shrove Tuesday is celebrated 47 days before Easter and proceeds the Lenten season. Taken from the word “shrive” or “to absolve” this day of self reflection, confession, and repentance allows those who participate to prepare for the coming days of Lent.
Growing up in a christian religion that did not participate in Lent, many of these more spiritual aspects of the season were lost to the far more visible revelry of Mardi Gras and Carnival. We will never appreciate Lent if our understanding stops the day before it begins, so lets dig a little deeper and gather some faith from this beautiful religious season.
What is Lent:
- Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and leads up to Easter Sunday. *
- This period of 40 days comes from many scriptural accounts including the 40 days of purifying flood during the time of Noah, the Israelite’s 40 years in the wilderness, and the 40 days Jesus Christ fasted in preparation to His ministry.
- The name Lent means “to lengthen” and is taken from the Anglo Saxon word for spring when the days grow longer.
Observing Lent means different things to different people. Some participate in fasting either on specific days (ie. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) or from specific foods (ie. meat, eggs, butter). This fasting encourages the believer to focus on the spiritual rather than physical needs. This practice is not unique to Lent and you can read more about how other faith traditions use fasting to approach the divine here.
For some, Lent is a time to detach from worldly distractions. They may choose to give up something like television, smoking, alcohol, or sweets for the 40 days. To my friend, who belongs to the Church of England, Lent isn’t about giving something up, but about starting something new. Her family makes a list of things they want to improve on during Lent.
Personally, I think Lent sounds amazing! It is a season of discipline, sacrifice, purifying, preparation, prayer, and conversion. To me it is all about creating space for the divine and regardless of your faith tradition and who doesn’t need help with that?
I have decided to celebrate Lent this year by setting a few distractions aside and making some goals and look forward to learning from this faith-filled experience. But first… I’m going to eat a pancake.
*This article references Lent as practiced by the western christian church (ie. Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, etc) Check back soon for an article on how Great Lent is celebrated by the eastern orthodox church.