The English word Lent has no connection to the practice of fasting: it is in fact a shortened form of the Old English word ‘lencten’, meaning ‘spring season’.
Linked to the Old Germanic root word ‘laŋgo-‘, which means ‘long’, many believe the word Lent is related to the lengthening of days over the season. In fact, the Anglo Saxon name for March – the month Lent usually falls in – was ‘lenctentid’, which means ‘springtide’.
However as the fasting season that precedes Easter always takes place in the spring, the word Lent soon came to be linked intrinsically to 40 days of penance.
Why do people give things up for Lent?
Some people fast for the whole period of Lent, as a reflection of Jesus’s sacrifice in the Judean desert. Some Christians will fast only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday.
However, many people, even those who do not go to church, choose to give up a particular vice, such as their favourite food, alcohol or smoking for the period of Lent. Quitting sugar or cutting down on excessive social media use and screen time are other popular detox options.
Instead of giving up chocolate, fizzy drinks or chips, many others use Lent as a period of time to help others. Hundreds of people take part in the Lenten Positive Acts Challenge, as another way to show praise for God.