Please note: There are different definitions for the duration of Lent. For details see the explanations below.
Lent is the annual period of Christian observance that precedes Easter. The dates of Lent are defined by the date of Easter, which is a movable feast, meaning that it falls on a different date each year. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and its observance (although not its liturgical period, as Sundays are not fast days and are therefore not counted – see below) lasts for 40 days, mirroring the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before starting his ministry. It can also be seen to mirror the 40 hours that Jesus spent in the tomb prior to his resurrection.
Lent is a penitential period, involving the dual disciplines of abstinence and fasting. During Lent many Christians commit to fasting or giving up certain foods, habits or luxuries – for example meat, cakes and sweets, alcohol, smoking – for its duration (the money saved is often then donated to charity). This is done both as a form of penitence and as a spiritual tool to tame the body and ‘sharpen the spirit’ for prayer, reflection and contemplation in preparation for the celebration of Easter.