Lent 2024: Why, when and how Christians observe the religious holiday

The annual observance, followed by millions worldwide, culminates in Easter celebrations

The beginning of Lent changes each year and ends with Easter. Getty Images
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As the Christian season of Lent begins, millions of worshippers around the world observe traditions that date back millennia.

Abstaining from certain pleasures or luxuries, including food and drinks, Christians begin 40 days of self-reflection, sacrifice and acts of kindness, which end in the traditional Easter celebrations. From the origin of Ash Wednesday to why Lent changes each year, here's what you need to know about the religious holiday.

What is Lent?

Lent is a religious observance in the Christian calendar, which commemorate the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, according to the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Lent is observed by many different Christian denominations, including Anglican, Lutheran and Roman Catholic.

When is Lent this year?

Lent began on Wednesday and ends on March 28. Observers usually attend special church services on the first day to prepare.

Is Lent on the same dates every year?

As with Ramadan, Lent is not held on the same dates each year. The period of acknowledgement of the 40 days the Bible says Christ spent in the desert begins exactly 46 days before Easter. The 46 days constitute 40 days of Lent plus six days, as Sundays are not counted.

Easter always occurs on the first Sunday after the paschal full moon – the first full moon on or after the spring equinox – which affects the date it falls on each year.

What is Ash Wednesday?

The first day of Lent always falls on a Wednesday and is called Ash Wednesday. It is a day of fasting and prayer.

Ash Wednesday marks the first day on which Christians make a Lenten sacrifice. On the day before, Shrove Tuesday, which is also known as Pancake Day, observers indulge in rich or “fatty” foods ahead of 40 days of sacrifice and penitence.

This is why pancakes are traditionally eaten, because the dish requires milk, eggs and flour, rich ingredients that would then be given up for the following weeks.

Easter marks the time when observers can once again indulge in what they gave up.

What do people give up for Lent?

The idea of making a personal sacrifice during Lent means many people give up something they enjoy, usually a type of food or activity.

Children might be encouraged to give up chocolate. Meat is another common food to give up. Observers may take a break from social media or stop smoking.

During this time, observers are also encouraged to engage in good behaviour such as kindness, thoughtfulness and acts of charity.

Updated: February 15, 2024, 8:21 AM