Lent, as many people know, is the 40 day period leading up to Easter. For some it’s a time of abstinence, for others it’s the lead up to unwrapping chocolate eggs, and of course for many it’s now a time to take part in the 40acts Lent generosity challenge from Stewardship!
Here are some facts about Lent that might surprise you:
The word Lent has nothing to do with fasting or giving things up
‘Lent’ is a shortened version of the Old English word ‘lencten’, a word which simply means spring (in relation to the season). It is thought to have Germanic roots and seems likely to have been used to described the season when the days began to lengthen, signifying new life and renewal. Over time, the word Lent came to be linked specifically to the Christian tradition of fasting before Easter, which always coincided with the spring.
Lent was originally 36 days long
Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) and lasts for 46 days up until Easter Sunday (although officially the Lent fast is only 40 days long as Sundays aren’t included). It wasn’t always like this though – in fact, Lent started out as just the six week period (still excluding Sundays) in the lead up to Easter, so the fast was only 36 days long! Lent was extended to 40 days (which is why it begins on Ash Wednesday) to parallel with and help Christians remember the time Christ spent in the wilderness, avoiding temptation at the hands of the Devil, as he prepared for his ministry, death and resurrection.
Lent is about fasting and spiritual growth
Most people know about giving things up for Lent. Some people give up chocolate, sugary drinks, meat, alcohol, cigarettes – even other modern indulgences like videogames or social media in a bid to exercise self-control and spend more time focussing on what is important in life. Lent is traditionally a time of repentance and spiritual renewal, where Christians remember Christ’s own preparation in the desert, where he turned his back on the temptation of the devil in order to prepare himself for the mission God had sent him to complete. Hundreds of years ago this manifested in the form that people gave up meat, fish, eggs, wine, oil, butter and other dairy products. While many Christians have moved away from this practice, this is still seen in some Eastern Churches, following a much stricter fast.
Lent is also about doing good
Lent isn’t just about remembering Christ’s suffering – it’s a time in which believers try to be the best Christian they can possibly be. In the early Lent traditions, Almsgiving (the giving of charity to the poor and needy) was another important aspect of the fast. So the principle of doing Lent generously has been around for hundreds of years before the 40acts generosity challenge began! “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honoured, all the parts share its joy” (1 Cor 12:26)
Mother’s Day is actually a part of Lent
Lent is the build-up to Easter and Easter is a celebration of Christ’s rebirth. What better a thing to celebrate during the fourth Sunday of Lent than mothers? The Sundays of Lent are all joyous occasions for Christians everywhere – here in the UK the fourth of these Sundays is known as Mothering Sunday. Mothering Sunday was originally all about returning to your home (or ‘mother’) church, and eventually it became a celebration of motherhood. Lent, as mothers around the country are sure to remind you, is all about giving generously!
Good Friday is a bit of a strange name
The term “Good Friday” seems a bit strange at first glance given that it is the day we remember Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. Scholars continue to debate the correct origin of the word good; some attribute it as meaning Holy, or Pious, while others argue that it comes from a corruption of ‘God Friday’. The Oxford English Dictionary opts for the first – but either definition hints at the significance of the day. Good Friday is certainly the holiest Friday of any given year.
Want to experience a different kind of Lent? Since 2011, a growing community from the UK and across the world have been joining the 40acts generosity challenge run by the Christian charity Stewardship. You can find out more about the challenge here, or view previous acts here.