My college roommate gave up Facebook. A bro-type friend gave up beer. Another friend decided to start going to the gym three times a week instead of giving something up. It's that time of year again when Catholics and Christians start talking hopefully but solemnly about what they're going to give up and here's why it matters.
It is now time for Lent, the six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday, a period of observance and reflection for many Christian denominations, and this year it goes from Ash Wednesday, (Feb. 13) to March 30. Meant to be a period of mourning and reflection on the nature of Jesus Christ's sacrifice, believers prepare themselves for Easter by paring their lives down through fasting, giving up luxuries, penance, and giving alms. Even some churches forgo their ceremonial decorations and paraphernalia in place of a more austere environment.
This period is supposed to commemorate the 40 days Jesus Christ is said to have fasted in the desert. Some people also use this time to reflect on what it means to give up something from one's life in relation to Christ's ultimate sacrifice of his own life for man.
Customarily similar to the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Lent is interpreted differently by different segments of the Christian faith but all focus on three main areas of renewed faith: prayer, fasting, and giving alms.
The Tuesday before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday has been come to be known as Fat Tuesday, since it is the final indulgence in the vices and luxuries one is planning to give up. Some of the most lavish and famous pre-Lent feasts on Fat Tuesdays are held in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans where it is also celebrated as Mardi Gras, French for Fat Tuesday.
Sundays are allowed as breaks between the fasting periods, and the fourth Lenten Sunday, or Mothering Sunday, is the basis of Mother's Day celebrations in the United Kingdom. The final Sunday before Easter is known as Palm Sunday, which marks the start of the Holy Week.
The Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of Holy Week commemorate some of the final episodes in Jesus Christ's life. Spy Wednesday encourages us to take pause and acknowledge the day Judas spied on Christ before betraying him, Maundy Thursday (or Holy Thursday) remembers Christ's Last Supper with his disciples, and Good Friday mourns Christ's crucifixion and death. Easter Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Christ, and allows observers of Lent to feast and break their fasts.
Regardless of your religious bent, Lent can be a period of reflection and humility for all, but even if it isn't, be nicer to your friends who are observing it during this period.