What is Lent?

Millions of Christians all over the world began marking the start of an important period of time back on Wednesday 14 February.

Ash Wednesday

That is because it is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent in Western Christian churches. During Lent, many people decide to give something up that they love – perhaps chocolate, sweets or social media!

Others might decide to take up something, like helping out more with chores at home or making an effort to do special things for their family and friends.

40 days

Lent is a period of 40 days during which many Christians remember the events leading up to and including the death of Jesus Christ, whose life and teachings are the foundation of Christianity.

The 40-day period is called Lent after an old English word meaning ‘lengthen’.

This is because of the time of year when it happens, as this is when the days start to get longer, as we approach summer.

Reflect and forgive

It is a time of reflection and of asking for forgiveness, and when Christians prepare to celebrate Jesus’s resurrection at the feast of Easter, which comes at the very end of Lent.

Ash Wednesday is the day after Shrove Tuesday, which is also known as Pancake Day. Exactly when Ash Wednesday is each year depends on when Easter is, so the date changes. On Ash Wednesday, lots of churches hold special services where worshippers are marked on the forehead with ash, and which is where the day gets its name from.

Typically, the ash is made from burning special crosses made out of palm wood, which were used in church services on the previous year’s Palm Sunday. It is sometimes mixed with special oil.

Lent ends with Holy Week, which leads to Easter Sunday – the most important day in the Christian calendar (not Christmas Day).

This day marks the resurrection of Jesus after his death on the cross and is a celebration of his life.

There are special Easter services, meals with family and friends and in some cultures, Easter eggs are both given and received.

BBC Bitesize

Easter is calculated as the first Sunday after the full Moon that occurs on after the spring equinox.