Lent – A Season of Fasting
Lent is a time for religious people to give something up for their religion for a set amount of time.

During Lent, religious artifacts, such as this crucifix, will be covered for the entire duration of the fast.

One common thread between most Christian religions is the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, or Easter. The weeks leading up to Easter are often used as a time of remembrance of Christ’s ministry and what he went through before his death. In Christianity, the season of Lent is the 40 days before Easter. Because the date of Easter is based on a lunar, rather than solar, calendar, the beginning of Lent changes each year. Traditionally, the first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday, which in 2017 falls on March 1.

Traditions of Lent

On Ash Wednesday, Christians attend a worship service in which the minister or priest makes the sign of a cross with ashes on the forehead of the worshipper. This symbolizes the sinfulness before God and human mortality. In the Bible, in both Hebrews and Numbers, the ashes of a red heifer would sanctify the ceremonially unclean. Ashes were thought to be purifying.

Human sorrow is represented by ashes. In the book of Esther, the Jews “lay in sackcloth and ashes” as a way of mourning the edict of the King that allowed for the destruction of the Jews. Job used dust and ashes as a symbol of repentance.

Fasting is one of the most common ways that Lent is observed. In older times, the tradition would be to have one full meal per day, with smaller meals allowed. The idea was that a person should have enough food to sustain strength, but never enough to feel full. Each community would have their own traditions, but generally, animal products were forbidden. Fish and fowl might be allowed on Fridays.

On Sundays, the fast would be suspended, but during Lent, Christians would refrain from saying “Alleluia” or the “Gloria in excelsis Deo” rite. These rituals were associated with joy. Because Lent was a time of sorrow, the words would be replaced with another phrase or simply omitted during the season.

During Lent the religious objects such as the cross, statues and pictures might be veiled for the entire 40 days. However, Anglican and Methodist churches traditionally only cover the objects on Good Friday. In more progressive churches, the liturgy of Lent might not be observed at all. Instead, the emphasis is on Easter Sunday, rather than penitence.

Fasting for Social Change

One current trend seen around Lent is that of a positive fast. People don’t just give up food or pleasure, but instead contribute to environmental stewardship. At Greenanglicans.org, people are remembering the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness by doing one thing every day to be more environmentally conscious. For example, have dinner by candlelight and then talk and play games together.

Charisma House, a Christian publisher, is suggesting a 10-day word fast from complaining, criticism, sarcasm and gossip. According to Isaiah 58:6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” The study asks you to watch what you say for just 10 days, to help you change a pattern of discouragement and negativity.

Another interesting concept is taking on atheism for Lent. For 40 days, a Christian examines literature that speaks to who God is and his or her beliefs in God. It’s a time to examine ideological structures of religion.

You do not have to honor Lent to celebrate Easter, but respect those who do. It’s a Christian tradition that means a lot to those who do partake in the season.


Celebrating Mardi Gras in Canada
Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the world.

Mardi Gras is a time of celebration just before lent.

February 28 is Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, Carnival and/or Mardi Gras, depending on your culture and traditions. Mardi Gras is the last day for parties before the time of Lent. Lent is when many Christians fast before the Easter holiday. You don’t have to celebrate Easter to enjoy Mardi Gras, but knowing why it’s celebrated can help you understand the traditions.

What Is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which is based on the date of Easter. This means that the date generally changes from year to year. In 2017, it’s February 28. Next year, the date is February 13. In Canada, it’s not a statutory holiday, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t find celebrations here in the country.

During Lent, Christians give up many indulgences, such as meat, alcohol and rich foods. Shrove Tuesday began as a way of using up the food in the household that might be forbidden during Lent. Some believe that Pancake Tuesday was a pagan holiday. Christians are reported to have made pancakes because the recipe would use up eggs, lard or butter, sugar and milk, foods that might be limited through Lent.

Although Lent probably originated in Europe, people around the world now celebrate Mardi Gras, Carnival or Shrove Tuesday with huge festivals. Masquerades and costumes are popular, but so are large amounts of alcohol, many rich foods, not only pancakes and pastries.

At one time, Mardi Gras was a more sedate celebration. Today, it is often considered the single person’s holiday in late Winter, as opposed to Valentine’s Day, which is more couple-centric. 

Where to Celebrate Mardi Gras

Since 1445, Olney in Buckinghamshire has held a pancake race in which women (although men can participate) carry a frypan and toss a pancake in it while racing 415 yards (one-quarter of a kilometer). The pancake must be in the pan when crossing the finish line, and the contestants must be tossing it as they cross the finish. Typically, these women also dress as housewives, wearing an apron and a scarf. Following the race, everyone goes to the church for a service.

Rio, New Orleans, Trinidad and Tobago and Sydney, Australia are great places to go to enjoy huge parties and crowds for Mardi Gras. Not only is this a time to eat indulgently, it’s also a time to be free of inhibitions. It’s an “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” attitude. In New Orleans, it’s traditional to accumulate beads. Tourists think the best way to get beads is to flash someone, but really, locals prefer you just shout, “throw me something, mister!“ at the people on the floats. Parents of children who come out for the parade will thank you for not flashing yourself for their kids to see.

Places in Canada to Celebrate Mardi Gras

Locally, the most popular place for Mardi Gras celebrations is in Quebec City, but this year’s Carnaval de Quebec was from January 27 through February 12, making it much earlier than Mardi Gras. Ottawa’s Winterlude also misses it this year, as it is from February 3 through 20. You may just have to look for ones in your neighborhood or create your own traditions.

Understanding the Importance of Lent
Understanding Lent

Understanding Lent

The Islamic faith has a month of fasting known as Ramadan. Jews fast during Yom Kippur, a time of atonement. Many Christians fast during the Lenten Season. If you’re unfamiliar with Lent, take a moment to learn more about this time to understand your friends who are partaking. Even if you don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you can respect those who do.

What Is Lent?

The 40 days before Easter are considered a time of preparation of Christ’s resurrection and known as Lent. The dates are calculated a little differently, but it’s about six weeks prior to Easter. Some traditions call for 40 fasting days, choosing not to count Sundays as a day of fast. Many believers pray more during this time, which culminates in the Holy Week activities. In ancient times, Lenten fasting traditions could be severe. Many people who observed Lent during medieval times gave up all animal products or only ate fish.
Today, those who observe Lent often give up a vice, like watching television, to allow them to spend more time in prayer and study. Many people add a spiritual discipline during Lent. Some people still fast, giving up meat on Friday and Saturday during Lent. Lent is often considered a time of sparsity, in which people may eat enough to sustain strength but not to conquer hunger. It is a time of grief for the Church. Some rites omit the word “alleluia” from their liturgy during the season, because it is associated with joy.

Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday

The day before Lent begins is known as Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday or Fat Tuesday. You’ve probably heard of some of the carnival celebrations on the day. No matter what it’s called, this Tuesday is seen as one last opportunity to go overboard with food and drink before Lent begins.

The day after Shrove Tuesday is known as Ash Wednesday. Believers have ash placed on their forehead, either in the form of a cross or by sprinkling the ashes over the head. During Biblical times, ashes signified grief and sorrow for sins. The ashes do not have to be worn all day, but some people do wear them as a sign of religious freedom.

Holy Week

Those who celebrate the resurrection of Christ consider the Passiontide one of the most important times in the Christian church. The fifth Sunday of Lent begins this season. The next Sunday is Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week. Palm Sunday is when Jesus is said to triumphantly enter Jerusalem. The following Wednesday is often called Spy Wednesday, and it is the day when Judas Iscariot decided to betray Jesus. The next day is Maundy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper of Christ and the disciples.

On Good Friday, Christ’s crucifixion and burial are remembered. It is a statutory federal holiday in Canada, but in Quebec, employers can choose to give their staff either Friday or Easter Monday off. In the United States, it is no longer honored at the federal level, but some states do consider it a holiday. In some countries, certain activities such as dancing are considered profane on Good Friday, because the day is holy.

Respect the Tradition

If a co-worker mentions that he or she is fasting for Lent and can’t go to lunch, respect the decision. You may ask if he or she could go somewhere else to get fish or a vegetarian entrée, but don’t push. If you don’t celebrate Easter yourself, consider Good Friday a bonus day to spend time with your family. For some, it is a day of great religious significance, and they want the time to honor it.