What is Lent and Why Do Christians Celebrate It? | A Guide to Lent

Corbin Riley   -  

What is Lent and Why Do Christians Celebrate It?

Lent is a sincere season of 40 days in the Christian calendar that precedes Easter, the most important Holy Day for Christians. During Lent, Christians prepare themselves spiritually for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection by engaging in practices such as fasting, prayer, repentance, and compassion towards the poor. Lent is a time to reflect on the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice and to renew one’s commitment to follow Him.

But where did Lent come from, and how did it develop over the centuries? How do different Christian traditions observe Lent today? And what are some common questions and misconceptions about Lent? In this blog post, we will explore these questions and more and hopefully help you gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of this sacred season.

The Origins and Development of Lent

The word “Lent” comes from the Old English word “lencten”, which means “springtime” or “lengthening of the day.” This reflects the fact that Lent is observed in the northern hemisphere during the transition from winter to spring when the days become longer and warmer.

The earliest evidence of a 40-day period of fasting before Easter dates back to the fourth century when the Council of Nicea in 325 AD mentioned it as a common practice among Christians. However, the exact origin and meaning of this practice is not clear. Some scholars suggest that it was influenced by the Jewish tradition of fasting for 40 days before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Others propose that it was inspired by the examples of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, who all fasted for 40 days in the Bible. Still others argue that it was originally a time of preparation for baptism, which was usually administered on Easter Sunday. Most Christians follow the example of Christ going into the desert, where he fasted 40 days without food and water while being tempted by Satan (Mark 1; Matthew 4 & Luke 4).

Whatever the case, the 40-day fast gradually became a universal observance in the Christian world, although the rules and regulations varied from place to place. In the early centuries, fasting was very strict, as Christians abstained from all kinds of food and drink except for bread, water, and sometimes fruits and vegetables. They also refrained from other pleasures. They devoted themselves to prayer, reading the Scriptures, and performing acts of charity. They also confessed their sins and sought reconciliation with God and their neighbors.

As Christianity spread and diversified, different traditions and customs emerged around Lent. In the Eastern churches, Lent begins on a Monday, called Clean Monday, and ends on a Friday, called Lazarus Friday, before Palm Sunday (notice they don’t have an “Ash Wednesday”). This makes a total of 40 days, excluding Sundays, which are considered feast days and not fast days. The Eastern churches also observe a stricter fast, avoiding not only meat but also dairy, eggs, oil, and wine. They also have a special liturgy, called the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, which is celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent.

In the Western churches, Lent begins on a Wednesday, called Ash Wednesday, and ends on a Thursday, called Holy Thursday, before Good Friday. This makes a total of 44 days, including Sundays, which are considered part of Lent, although with a relaxed fast. The Western churches also have a less rigorous fast, allowing not only bread but also fish, eggs, and dairy products. They also have a distinctive ceremony called the Imposition of Ashes (aka Ash Wednesday), which involves marking the forehead of the faithful with ashes as a sign of repentance and mortality derived from Genesis 3:19.

Over the centuries, Lent has undergone many changes and adaptations as the church has responded to the changing needs and circumstances of its members. Some of these changes include:

  • The relaxation of the fasting rules, especially after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s which gave more freedom and flexibility to the individual conscience and local culture.
  • The introduction of new practices and devotions, such as the Stations of the Cross, which depict the 14 scenes of Christ’s passion and death, and the Lenten Calendar, which provides daily readings, prayers, and activities for each day of Lent.
  • The ecumenical dialogue and cooperation which has led to a greater understanding and appreciation of the diversity and richness of the Lenten traditions among different Christian denominations.

Common Questions and Answers about Lent

In this section, we will address some of the most frequently asked questions and misconceptions about Lent and provide some simple and clear answers.

Q: Is Lent a biblical commandment?

A: No, Lent is not a biblical commandment, nor is it a necessary condition for salvation. Lent is a human tradition that has developed over the centuries as a way of expressing and deepening one’s faith and devotion to Christ. Lent is a voluntary and personal choice, not a legalistic obligation. However, Lent is based on biblical principles, such as fasting, prayer, repentance, and almsgiving, which are all recommended and practiced by Jesus and His followers. We’ll discuss fasting more in-depth in a separate blog post.

Q: Is Lent only for Catholics?

A: No, Lent is not only for Catholics but for all Christians who want to observe it. Lent is a common heritage of the Christian church, which dates to the early centuries of its history. Although different Christian traditions have different ways of observing Lent, they all share the same goal and purpose: to prepare for the celebration of Easter, the central event of the Christian faith. Lent is a time of unity and solidarity among Christians as they join together in following Christ and His example of love and sacrifice.

Q: What are the benefits of observing Lent?

A: Observing Lent can benefit one’s spiritual, mental, and physical well-being. Some of these benefits include:

  • Spiritual growth: Lent is a time to deepen one’s relationship with God, by spending more time in prayer, reading the Scriptures, and meditating on the mysteries of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Lent is also a time to examine one’s conscience, repent of one’s sins, and seek forgiveness and healing from God and others. Lent is a time to grow in holiness by imitating Christ’s virtues and following his commands.
  • Mental clarity: Lent is a time to simplify one’s life by detaching from the distractions and temptations of the world and focusing on the things that really matter. Lent is also a time to renew one’s mind by filling it with positive and uplifting thoughts given by the Holy Spirit and rejecting negative and harmful ones (2 Corinthians 10:5). Lent is a time to cultivate a healthy and balanced attitude by being grateful for what one has and generous with what one can give.
  • Physical health: Lent is a time to take care of one’s body by abstaining from unhealthy foods and drinks and adopting a more nutritious and moderate diet. Lent is also a time to exercise one’s body by engaging in physical activities that promote strength and endurance. Lent is a time to respect and honor one’s body by treating it as a temple of the Holy Spirit and using it for God’s glory.

Remember, as Christians our life is no longer about us (Galatians 2:20). As John the Baptist expressed, “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Q: What is the meaning of the color purple during Lent?

A: Purple is the liturgical color for Lent in most churches. It symbolizes penitence, mourning, royalty, and preparation. Purple reminds Christians of their sinfulness and their need for God’s grace. It also reminds them of Christ’s kingship and his suffering for their sake.

Q: What are some tips for observing Lent?

A: Observing Lent can be a rewarding and enriching experience if done with the right intention and attitude. Here are some tips for observing Lent:

  • Plan ahead: Before Lent begins, take some time to reflect on your goals and expectations for the season. What do you want to achieve or improve in your spiritual life? What are some areas of weakness or sin that you need to work on? What are some practices or habits that you want to adopt or change? Make a realistic and concrete plan for how you will observe Lent and stick to it as much as possible.
  • Be flexible: While having a plan is important, don’t be too rigid or legalistic about it. Remember that Lent is not a competition or a performance but a journey of faith and love. Be open to the guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit, who may lead you to new and unexpected ways of observing Lent. Be willing to adjust and adapt your plan, if necessary, according to your circumstances and needs. Remember, Lent isn’t about personal achievement:  Hillsong United put it beautifully in their song From the Inside Out:

“Your will above all else
My purpose remains
The art of losing myself
In bringing You praise”

Q: What are some ways to observe Lent at home or at work?

A: There are many ways to observe Lent in one’s daily life. Here are some suggestions:

  • Set aside a regular time for prayer and reading Scripture. You can use a devotional book or app that provides daily reflections for Lent.
  • Choose something to give up or take up for Lent. It can be something you enjoy or something you struggle with. It can be related to food, entertainment, habits, or relationships. The goal is to detach yourself from anything that distracts you from God.
  • Give more generously to those in need. You can donate money, goods, or time to a charity or cause that you care about. You can also perform acts of kindness or service for your family, friends, co-workers, or strangers.
  • Join a group or community that supports your Lenten journey. You can attend church services or events that are offered during Lent. You can also join a small group or online forum that discusses Lenten topics or shares Lenten experiences. Here at The Goddard Church, we are putting out weekly Lenten devotionals, and “The Joy of Lent’ is our current sermon series on Sundays.
  • Be creative and have fun with your Lenten practice. You can use art, music, poetry, journaling, or other forms of expression to communicate with God or reflect on your faith.

Q: How can I make Lent meaningful for my children?

A: Children can also participate in Lent in age-appropriate ways. Here are some ideas:

  • Get your ashes on Ash Wednesday and explain that they remind us of our need for God’s forgiveness and grace.
  • Give something up for Lent, such as candy, TV, or video games, and use the money or time you save to help others in need.
  • Add something positive to your daily routine, such as prayer, reading the Bible, or doing acts of kindness.
  • Most importantly, be open to their questions and be willing to learn with them. Model what giving something up for Lent means – not a personal challenge – but a way of sacrifice that creates a closer relationship with our Heavenly Father.


Lent is a wonderful opportunity for Christians to grow in their faith and love for Christ and to prepare themselves for the joy of Easter. Lent is a time to remember and relive the sacrifice and good works of Christ and to participate in His saving work. Lent is a time to renew and transform one’s life by following Christ’s example of humility, obedience, and service. Lent is a time to celebrate and share the good news of Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our glory.

I hope that this blog post has helped you understand and appreciate the history and meaning of Lent and has inspired you to observe it in a meaningful and fruitful way. May God bless you and guide you during this Lenten season, and may you experience his grace and peace in your life.


Gracious God, as I begin this season of Lent, I ask for your guidance and strength. Help me to turn away from sin and to follow you more closely. Show me the areas of my life that need your healing and forgiveness. Teach me to pray, to fast, and to give with a generous heart. May this Lent be a time of grace and renewal for me and for the whole world. Amen.


Always improve the present moment.