How to Observe Lent

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The old Teutonic word "lent" meant simply the spring season. Since Anglo-Saxon times, though, it's been used to denote the 40-day period of fasting and purification leading up to Easter. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (February 21, 2007) and ends on Easter Sunday (April 8, 2007).

  • Decorate your church and/or home in purple, symbolizing both suffering and death, but also royalty and thus hope for the resurrection.

  • Spend the Lent season in prayer, reflection and repentance. Lent is a time for soul-searching, facing great challenges and overcoming mistakes.

  • Follow the tradition of Lent by fasting, done in honor of Christ's own 40-day fast in the desert. You can do this in whatever way seems appropriate to you - its intensity has varied from total abstinence to refraining from eating meat. Note that some churches focus less on fasting and encourage charitable deeds. For example, visit elderly people, baby-sit for young mothers or visit prisoners.

  • Give up something you love for the 40-day period, symbolizing the Lenten season's return to simplicity and purity. It doesn't matter what you give up - cigarettes, chocolate, television, surfing the Internet - as long as the meaning of its absence holds significant value to you.

  • Banish the gloom of winter and make room for Easter and the new life of spring. While this season might be tinged with solemnity, it should also be a time of looking forward to renewal and triumph.

Tips & Warnings

  • Giving up something for Lent is primarily a Catholic custom, but even if you're not a devotee of any formal religion, the voluntary surrender of a cherished substance or pastime can have powerful spiritual and psychological benefits. If nothing else, it will show you what you can do when you put your mind to it.
  • Clean your house from top to bottom. It's a modern - and thoroughly practical - metaphor for purification and renewal. Organize your closets and get rid of clutter.
  • Why not consider being more virtuous for a few weeks? Don't lose your temper, don't gossip, don't complain, go to church more often, or improve yourself in whatever way seems most appropriate to you.
  • Folk wisdom holds that it takes six weeks - a tad more than the length of Lent - to establish a new habit. So beware: what you begin as a temporary act of willpower could wind up as a whole new way of life.

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