5 Interesting Facts About the Season of Lent

Every year, millions of Christians around the world observe Lent, the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. From chocolate to social media, those who observe the Lenten season give up their favorite luxuries in the interest of spiritual discipline.

Traditionally, Lent lasts for roughly 40 days to mirror the length of time Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness, resisting the temptation of Satan.

Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, March 6, is observed by Catholics and evangelical Christians across denominations. But the season isn’t just observed by the faithful: 1 in 4 Americans, religious and nonreligious alike, participate in Lent, according to LifeWay Research.

Here are five interesting facts about Lent, from the origin of the season’s official color to the meaning of ashes.

The origin of purple

Purple, specifically violet, is the symbolic color used in churches throughout Lent, from drapes and altar frontals to crosses and flowers.

According to the BBC, purple is used for two reasons: first, because it’s associated with mourning and so anticipates the pain and suffering of the crucifixion.

In an act of derision toward Jesus, Pilate placed a purple robe on Jesus, whom he called “King of the Jews.” Mark 15:17 reads: “They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him.”

Second, purple is the color associated with royalty and celebrates Christ’s resurrection and sovereignty. In ancient Rome, “Tyrian purple” was a designator of status. An extremely high value was placed on the dye as it was extracted from sea snails, therefore not easily obtained, according to the Smithsonian.

The meaning of ashes

Around the world, Ash Wednesday worship involves church services where ashes are placed in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of worshipers. Traditionally, worshipers choose to leave the ashes on their foreheads for the remainder of the day. These ashes are an outward sign and symbol of grief, as well as purification and sorrow for sins.

While there is no specific mention of Ash Wednesday in the Bible, the practice of repentance and mourning in sackcloth and ashes is found throughout the Old and New Testaments.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Daniel speaks of seeking the Lord for the release of His people from Babylonian exile with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes (Daniel 9:3).

Later, the prophet Jonah 3:6 states: “When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.”

In some churches, palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday service are saved, and then burned to produce the ashes for the Ash Wednesday service.

Food is the most popular category for abstention

Thanks to the internet, it’s possible to follow in real time what Twitter users say they are giving up for Lent.

This year, food (sweets, soda, sugar, chocolate, meat) is the most popular category for abstention, followed by technology and smoking/drugs/alcohol. Last year, social networking topped the list, followed by Twitter, alcohol, chocolate, and swearing.

While the vast majority of Christians give up something that they enjoy for Lent, others place less emphasis on what to give up — and more on what they do, volunteering and giving of themselves to others.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leah MarieAnn Klett