The Christian season of Lent begins on Wednesday, February 14th this year. It is one of the few incidents where Lent coincides with Valentine’s Day. The earliest Lent can begin is February 4th when Easter is March 22nd. When Easter is celebrated on April 25th, which is the latest date it can be, then Lent begins March 10th. In 2018, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Western Church, was also on February 14th, and the first day of Lent in 2029 will begin on Valentine’s Day again.
The word ‘Lent’ comes from the Middle English word lente, meaning springtime, which was derived from Old English lencten. Spring was referred to as lencten because the daylight hours were getting longer or lengthening.
Lent is a period of preparation for Easter. Early Christian writings record the tradition of fasting before Easter. The Apostolic Constitutions (375 AD) permitted the consumption of "bread, vegetables, salt and water, in Lent" with "flesh and wine being forbidden."
Since ancient times Lent has been connected to a duration of 40 days and fasting. Sundays may or may not be excluded from the 40 days of Lent. The number 40 has significance in the Bible. Jesus went into the desert to fast and pray for forty days and forty nights preparing to battle the temptations of Satan. Moses went into the mountains for forty days and forty nights to pray and fast, eating no bread and drinking no water, before receiving the Ten Commandments. For forty days Elijah fasted as he journeyed to the mountain of God when the word of the Lord came to him.
The designation of the Tuesday before the beginning of Lent is Mardi Gras, translated as Fat Tuesday. It is the opportunity to have excess food and drink before the fasting of Lent begins. Carnival celebrations are held worldwide in the time between the Festival of the Epiphany, which falls on January 6th, and Ash Wednesday.
In North America the city of New Orleans has famous Mardi Gras festivities. The largest celebrations occur on the two weekends before Fat Tuesday. The main Mardi Gras parade happens on the final Tuesday before Lent. However, there are often over 80 parades scheduled over the Mardi Gras season.
The festivities of Carnival in Brazil have earned the distinction of being “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The Rio Carnival starts on the Friday before Lent begins and runs for five days. Over 5 million tourists will visit Rio during Carnival. The cornerstone of Carnival is the samba parade. People can be found dancing in the streets as they follow around the street bands that march through narrow paths and wide boulevards.
Eastern Christianity (Orthodox, Eastern Catholics, Oriental Orthodox) observe Lent continuously for 40 days starting on Clean Monday and ending on Lazarus Saturday, the day before Holy Week begins. The Orthodox Lent begins on March 18th in 2024. Pascha (Orthodox Easter) is celebrated on Sunday, May 5th this year. Pascha is calculated differently than Easter in Western Christianity. Following the ancient Julian calendar, Pascha always follows the time of the Jewish Passover, the traditional time when Jesus died. Thus, Pascha takes place between April 4th and May 8th. Pascha is quite removed from the Western observance this year because there is a Jewish leap year in 2024 which means Passover is later in the calendar. Leap years are built into the lunar calendar (which the Jewish calendar is based on) because the lunar year is about 11 days shorter than the solar year, so an extra month is added to certain years to make up the difference. With these considerations, in 2024 Clean Monday (which begins Lent in the Orthodox churches) is on Monday, March 18th, significantly later in the year than in Western Christianity.
The daylight hours are noticeably lengthening as we advance towards the middle of February. It has been over 50 days since the shortest day of the year on December 21. Lent is arriving on Wednesday, February 14. Are you doing anything to recognize the Season of Lent this year?
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