Most of us will try to give up something for Lent, whether it is chocolate, sweets, alcohol or meat –and a handful of us will manage to avoid consuming these things until Easter rolls around. But what is Lent and why do we mark it by giving up our favourite things?
This year, Lent will begin on Wednesday 1 March, otherwise known as Ash Wednesday, and it will end on Thursday 13 April. Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day, falls on Tuesday 28 February.
What is Lent?
Lent is the 40-day period before Easter, during which people around the world observe fasting, consume their favourite things in moderation and attend special services for Lent.
According to Christianity, it is a way of remembering and marking the time leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus and resurrection, when he spent 40 days and nights alone in the Judaean desert avoiding temptation by Satan.
According to Christians, Jesus fasted during this time and so people now mark Lent by giving up certain foods.
This period of reflection began in the fourth century and is often marked by fasting, the giving up of luxury foods like meat, dairy products, chocolate and alcohol.
Not all Christian churches observe Lent. It depends on each individual, but Lent is mostly observed by the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican denominations, as well as by the Roman Catholics.
What is Shrove Tuesday?
The day before Ash Wednesday is known as Shrove Tuesday, traditionally a feast day before the start of Lent. During Anglo-Saxon times, Christians would go to confession to be absolved from their sins, which is also known as being "shriven" – hence the name Shrove Tuesday.
It was also a day to use up ingredients which couldn't be consumed during Lent, such as eggs and fats, which is where the tradition of Pancake Day comes from.
Festivals take place all over the world at this time, including Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The term Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday", referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting which begins on Ash Wednesday.
What is Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent and named after the tradition of marking a sign of the cross on the forehead using ash, as an act of penance. Ash Wednesday comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and fasting.
Traditionally, the ashes are made from palms used in the previous Palm Sunday celebrations.