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  • Writer's pictureDarcie @ Leighton Lane

10 Fascinating Facts about Lent

Updated: Feb 26

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Originally published on Click here to read one of my latest pieces on fun facts about the Lenten season.

I grew up in a Catholic family that observed Lent every year. We usually gave up an unhealthy habit and ate fish on Fridays, but beyond that, I never took the time to explore all of the traditions of Lent. Let me tell you, there are a lot of observances. And they have adapted over time and vary by geographical location.

Most people know Lent is six weeks of fasting, repentance, and self-denial observed by many Catholics, Orthodox, and some Protestant denominations in preparation for Easter. Whether you participate in Lent or not, it's an excellent time to take spiritual inventory to draw closer to God. Let's dig a little deeper into the history and rituals of the season and find some fascinating facts.  

1. Lent Meant Longer Days

Did you know the word Lent is derived from an Old English word meaning "to lengthen" and refers to a season when the days become longer? We know this season is spring -- glorious springtime! I don't know about you, but I'm ready for Lent to appear on the calendar. I know I'm not the only one ready for the thawing season, hearing birds chirping, smelling honeysuckle, and more daylight.

2. Lent Is Not Always 40 Calendar Days.

Wait, what? My whole life, I've always heard the number forty to describe the days of Lent. It turns out, for some denominations, Sundays don't count. The Western Churches typically start the Lenten season on Ash Wednesday, but Eastern Churches usually start two days earlier on Clean Monday. To make the summation more complicated, Lent commences on the evening of Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday) for some denominations and on the evening of Holy Saturday for others. In totality, you have forty-six days, give or take a couple fewer Sundays in the West -- so forty. I think.

3. At Least We Always Know the Date of Ash Wednesday.

Thankfully, we know when Ash Wednesday falls on the calendar because the date for Easter has been set for thousands of years. The Day of Ashes always lands forty-six days before Easter. I'd like to tell you the calculation of the date of Easter is less confusing than the determination of the number of Lenten days. But, it's based on mathematical formulas and a full moon -- something beyond my comprehension.

The basic equation is that Easter is the first Sunday after the full moon on or after the spring equinox. If the Paschal Moon falls on a Sunday, Easter is the following Sunday. But at times, there is misalignment between astronomical and ecclesiastical dates -- something about hemispheres. I lost interest in my research, and I'm just going to leave this up to the experts. If you are really interested, you can read about how the calendar date for Easter is calculated here.

4. Sundays are for Feasting-- The Other Days are for Fasting

Sunday's during the Lenten season are celebration and feasting days in observance of Christ's resurrection. Christians are supposed to practice fasting and abstinence the other six days of the week. This ties into explaining the 46 days versus 40 days we discussed earlier for Western churches.

5. Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday Is a Day of Preparation. 

Speaking of feasting, for centuries, observers of Lent have used the week leading up to the season to prepare for fasting by binging on the perishable foods that are prohibited during fasting. That's why we call the day before Ash Wednesday "Fat" Tuesday. 

Fat Tuesday is more commonly known as Shrove Tuesday in Europe. According to Wikipedia, Shrove Tuesday is a day of confession and absolution. And it's also called Pancake Day. "It was traditional in many societies to eat pancakes or other foods made with the butter, eggs, and fat that would be given up during the Lenten season."

6. The Length of Lent Represents the 40 Days Jesus Spent in the Wilderness.

As you read your Bible, you will notice God seems to have an affinity for specific numbers, like forty. Forty is a significant number for Christians, and we see it repeatedly throughout the books of the Bible. For example, Noah waited through forty days and nights of rain before the ark started floating (Genesis 7:4). Moses and Aaron and the Israelite community wandered in the wilderness for forty years (Joshua 5:6). 

There are many more mentions of the number forty in the Bible. But according to Wikipedia, Lent is a solemn religious observance commemorating the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness while being tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11).

7. There Is No Mention of Lent in the Bible. 

It is true. The observation of Lent is man-made by the church, and it started soon after biblical times on a smaller scale than we see today. Although Lent is not explicitly stated in the Bible, many of the elements of Lent are found in the Word, such as fasting (Matthew 6:16-18), repentance (Matthew 4:17), self-sacrificing (Matthew 10:39), and self-examination (Psalm 139:23-24).

8. There Is the Give-Up Approach. 

Did you know chocolate has historically been the number one vice given up during Lent? The Lenten season is usually marked with abstinence, as we've briefly discussed. Many observers of Lent typically give up some unhealthy habit, such as smoking or alcohol, as a sign of sacrifice and to test their self-discipline. There has also been a big trend of giving up social media in recent years.  

9. There Is the Take-Up Approach.

You usually see increased donations during spring in the Catholic churches because many parishioners practice spiritual and charitable acts during Lent. These acts can substitute for abstaining from meat on Fridays in some regions, except for Good Fridays. I actually love this approach because it seems more in line with Jesus' commandment to love your neighbor (Luke 10:27) and take care of the oppressed (Deuteronomy 15:7-8) than, say, quitting chocolate or caffeine. 

(Plus, I'm more charitable in attitude when I have my coffee and sweets.)

10. Purple Is the Official Color of Lent.

Have you ever driven past a wooden cross in a church lawn with a purple satin sash in the spring and wondered the significance of the violet cloth? It's actually called Tyrian Purple, and it is the official color of Lent. This color is also known as royal purple because the nobles were generally the only ones who could afford the expensive dying process.

Purple represents mourning because the soldiers mockingly put a purple robe and crown of twisted thorns on Jesus during His crucifixion. They mocked the Lord crying out, "Hail, king of the Jews!" (Mark 15:17-18). Essentially, the color symbolizes our fallen nature and the transgression of our sins. But we know the rest of the story. Jesus turned our sorrow into joy as He rose on Easter because He is the King of Kings!

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