Lent began last week on February 6. It ends March 23 with the celebration of Easter. In the Christian tradition, the Lenten period is a time of fasting and prayer, preparation and reflection in anticipation of Easter, which commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus.? ?
Lent is referred to as a 40-day period, even though the calendar count is 46 days. Sundays are excluded as each represents a mini-Easter, or a break from the Lenten period. These symbolize the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the desert. During this time, Jesus was tempted by the devil three times and resisted each time.
Historically, Lent has been a time to provide instruction to new converts and young Christians as a way to strengthen their faith, as well as a period for believers to spend in reflection to strengthen their faith.
Traditionally, Lent is a time for people to give up a vice, or to participate in virtuous acts. People often give up sweets, bread, alcohol, meat or other items. Good works include helping others, giving money to those in need or time spent in prayer. Lent allows Christian believers to focus on God rather than the world. Prayer and fasting are a way to change the patterns of their everyday lives to allow time for introspection and contemplation.
The three days preceding Lent are feast days, days of celebration prior to the quiet, reflective time of Lent. The Tuesday before Lent is Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras (French for Fat Tuesday). This is the last day to feast before Lent begins, the last period of excess.
Lent, which is derived from the Old English word lencten, or spring, begins just as winter begins to be oppressive and transitions us into the next season. This year, the first day of spring is March 20, just a few days before the celebration of Easter.
While some people say politics and religion should never be mixed, this year’s calendar has made that inevitable: Mardi Gras, the last day of celebration before Lent, fell on the same day as Super Tuesday – when 24 states and American Samoa held presidential primaries or caucuses.
Many of the candidates’ primary night events reflected an atmosphere of celebration: McCain solidifying his frontrunner status, Huckabee making major gains, Clinton and Obama both claiming that the results proved that they were on the right track to the White House. However, as with Mardi Gras, the candidates’ celebrations lasted only a night. Once Super Tuesday was over, the campaigns began to focus on solidifying their supporters and moving forward.