Lent is traditionally referred to as a forty days fasting, but different Christian denominations calculate its length differently.
In the Eastern Orthodox and the Byzantine Catholic Church, the lent includes the Sundays and begins on Clean Monday. While for Protestants, the season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (which this year happens to be on 10th February) and lasts a total of 46 days, but as there is no religious obligation to fast on the six Sundays in Lent, the real fasting goes for 40 days.
The term lent, in its initial form of lenten and Germanic origin, names the season of spring and is found in written British records since the 11th century onwards.
The first written evidence to refer to lenten as fair food without meat and the practise of fasting dates to the 1020’s edition of The Rule of Saint Benedict to describe the tradition of fasting in the Eastern Roman Empire around the 6th century.
Though, the fasting period is observed as a penance for the forty days Jesus fasted in the wilderness (according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke), the observation was first addressed by the church of Rome only during the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, when Emperor Constantine officially recognized that church as the Roman Empire’s state religion.
The ancient Latin Monks had three fasting seasons as one of the first general encyclopaedias to be produced in English, the Cyclopædia: or, An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences from 1728 confirms: “The ancient Latin Monks had three Lents; the Grand Lent before Easter; another before Christmas, called, The Lent of St. Martin; and a third after Whitsunday, called that of St. John Baptist: each of which consisted of forty Days.”
The first British record to name the 40 days fasting is the Middle English biography of saints, The South English Legendary from the 13th century.
Traditionally, the 40 days of Lent are marked by fasting from both food and festivity. Carnivals are held before the start of the lent period to give the observers a chance for a huge celebration before the “Carnem levare” (Latin, put away meat).
The three traditional practices during Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
But in our modern times, observes mainly stick to giving up on certain food and different addictions and restraining from vice, along with forms of charity. Some even pledge to give up social media, with Twitter in the lead, or even going further and turning off smartphones.
Lent is a period of grief and restrain that ends with a great celebration of Easter.