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Lent is a Christian religious observance commemorating Jesus Christ’s 40 days of prayer and fasting in the wilderness. It is a time of self-reflection and self-restraint in preparation for Easter.
In Western Christianity, the Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for six and a half weeks until Easter, allowing for 40 days of fasting and abstinence with the Sundays excluded. In Eastern Christianity, Lent takes place from the Monday seven weeks before Easter until the Friday nine days before Easter and comprises of 40 consecutive days of fasting including the Sundays. The days of lent are also calculated differently depending on the type of calendar used by the church, with some adhering to the Gregorian calendar, some the Julian calendar, and in the case of some Oriental Orthodox churches, the Coptic calendar.
The tradition of fasting before Easter has origins in early Christianity, and the strict rules form those times have largely relaxed for Western churches who observe Lent. Roman Catholics, for example, now keep only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as Lenten fast days. Eastern Christian churches, however, tend to adhere to the more stringent Lenten fasting rules, limiting meals to one per day and forgoing meat, fish, eggs, and dairy entirely.
In addition to fasting, Christians will often make a Lenten sacrifice; an abstinence from luxuries or pleasures for the duration of the season. Coffee, sugar, tobacco, and alcohol are common options for Lenten sacrifice, as are practices such as watching television, or engaging in social media.
Almsgiving is another tradition of Lent, with charitable donations equal to the value of that which was given up as Lenten sacrifice being encouraged.
It can be said that Lent is to Easter what Advent is to Christmas, though where Advent is a time of joy and celebration, Lent is a time of solemn reflection, and preparation of the mind for the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection.
The date of the beginning of the Lenten season is determined by the date of Easter, and is calculated differently by the various denominations of the Christian church.