Image: By Art Stocker

Growing up in a Christian family, my five siblings and I celebrated the Lenten season with great pomp and circumstance.  We fasted, observed each special day of the season, enjoyed lots of fish sticks, and dressed up for church. We learned to follow family recipes such as seasoning a ham, making cheesy potatoes, and baking seasonal foods like a carrot cake in a rabbit shaped Nordicware pan. 

Religions and spiritual beliefs have their own seasons in the same way that nature’s calendar does every year. These include the religious season of Advent in December, preceding Christmas, the Jewish Hanukkah and Muslim Ramadan holiday celebrations.

When is Lent? 

Lent lasts six weeks during the Christian year and begins on Ash Wednesday, which falls on a different day each year. Easter falls each year on a day relating to the paschal full moon of the lunisolar or lunar calendar. This refers to the ecclesiastical full moon that occurs any day after March 21st, the Spring Equinox. The cyclical movements of the moon dictate the exact date. Easter falls on the Sunday that follows the full moon of Passover. In 2021, Easter will occur on Sunday, April 4th. 

When does Lent Begin and What are the Traditions?

The Lenten season begins in February or March on what is known as Ash Wednesday. This day marks the experiences of Jesus Christ in the days leading up to his crucifixion; some Western Christians use this time to pray and fast. Today, we recognize the day Jesus was nailed to the cross in Jerusalem as Good Friday.

Historically, giving alms to the poor was a tradition during the Lenten season. Instead of spending money during lent, the Christians collected funds and donated to those in need. 

Some Christians abstain from eating meat and drinking on Ash Wednesday. It is also a day of prayer, so when ashes representing death or repentance for sins are placed on Christian foreheads, the minister may say a phrase similar to “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Depending on their faith, some may also fast once a week, typically on Friday. Many priests and pastors advise that more or longer fasting doesn’t mean God loves you better or best in terms of devotion. Fasting is a personal decision. Traditionally, some Christians would observe the Lenten season by choosing to abstain from certain foods or beverages such as candy, all sweets, coffee, or all caffeine. Today, some Christians may choose to abstain from profanity, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, social media, and more. Others make an effort to improve by adding exercise, meditation, journaling, volunteering, or praying daily. 

Important Christian Dates During Lent 

The entire Lenten Season is important and significant, but there are certain days that stand out during the season. On Good Friday, my parents would take us to participate in the Stations of the Cross at our parish church to signify the crucifixion. The holy days significant to Christians are:

  • Ash Wednesday: 6 weeks of Lent begin; ashes represent repentance and death and mark a Lent as a time to recognize human faults and repent for sins
  • Palm Sunday: a week before Easter, commemorates Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem walking on palm branches before his Holy Thursday arrest
  • Holy Thursday: represents the Last Supper, Jesus’ final dinner with his disciples before he was arrested 
  • Good Friday: a solemn day signifying the execution of Jesus by crucifixion
  • Holy Saturday: people gather to mourn the loss of Jesus and Lent ends
  • Easter: the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection; the 50-day Easter season begins and ends on Pentecost, 7 Sundays later

We hope you can use some of this information about the Lenten Season and Holy Week to enrich your cultural and spiritual understanding. We look forward to hearing about your traditions and customs.  

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a diversity and inclusion consultant, cross-cultural trainer, etiquette expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre, she is an attorney and mediator. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia, won a coveted Kirkus Star, and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the Greater Austin Business Awards.

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