How to Observe Lent

How to Observe Lent. 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).

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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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