5 Things to Do for Lent Besides Giving Something Up

For those of you who aren’t Christian, Lent is the 40 day period leading up to Easter. It’s similar to Advent, which is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Unlike Advent, which is a time of celebration and anticipation leading up to Jesus’ birth, Lent is seen as a solemn time of repentance, penance and mental and physical preparation leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection. Fat Tuesday (known as “Mardi Gras” in French) is the last day of the Carnival season, and the day before the first day of the Lenten season, Ash Wednesday. It’s the last night of eating rich, fatty foods (hence the name, “Fat Tuesday”) before the traditional fasting of the Lenten season, and before one’s Lenten sacrifices and/or disciplines begin, which I’ll get to later in the article. 

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It’s the only non-Friday of Lent that is practiced by abstaining from meat (mammals and fowl — fish and shellfish are allowed). On Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and every Friday of the Lenten season, Roman Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59, health permitting, are allowed to consume one full meal, along with two smaller meals (which together should not equal the full meal). 

However, some Catholics will do a complete fast by consuming only bread and water until sunset. While Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation — days in addition to Sundays in which Catholics are obliged to participate in Mass — many Christians go to church on Ash Wednesday to receive ceremonial ashes (the ashes of the previous year’s Palm Sunday palms) on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. The words used to accompany this gesture is from Genesis 3:19, along the lines of  “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” — the words spoken to Adam and Eve after their sin, to remind the faithful of their sinfulness, mortality and need to repent. Many Christians choose to keep the ashes visible throughout the day, but it is not obligatory.

Lent is practiced by fasting (both by reducing food intake AND by fasting from sin), abstinence (from meat, or another type of food), repentance (a day of contemplating one’s transgressions), as well as giving up certain luxuries in order to replicate Jesus’ journey and sacrifice in the Judean desert for 40 days. Common “luxuries” given up for Lent include chocolate, alcohol, soda, watching TV, social media, etc. This is known as one’s Lenten sacrifice.

Many Christians treat their Lenten sacrifice in the same way people treat their New Years’ resolutions: committed for the first few days, then they start to get lazy and slack, or even give up entirely. As a response, I once had a priest suggest some alternatives to the traditional Lenten sacrifice; instead of sacrificing something, put something forward for 40 days.

  1. 1. Pray

    Instead of sacrificing something for Lent, many Christians practice a “spiritual discipline,” such as saying a prayer everyday during the 40 days of Lent, or reading a daily devotional, or a chapter of the Bible every day/week to draw themselves closer to God.

  2. 2. Donate

    If you have old clothes or toys that are collecting dust that you’ve been thinking about getting rid of soon, but haven’t gotten around to yet, Lent is a great time to donate! Many churches have collection boxes, thrift stores or food pantries — maybe donate one bag of items a week!

  3. 3. Volunteer

    There’s never a bad time to volunteer! Volunteering doesn’t necessarily have to be through a church either; however they usually offer many opportunities for people of all ages, so it’s a good place to start! One of my favorite ways to volunteer during Lent was by working at my church’s weekly fish fry events. Not only did I get free food, but I also got to celebrate with members of the community and it was a blast!

  4. 4. Make Something

    I know a couple of ministries and members of my church back home like to take the time during Lent to make handmade rosaries. Sort of on the same branch as “donating,” consider making handmade gifts to give your friends or to the members of your church!

  5. 5. Compliment Someone

    This is another thing that isn’t specific to JUST the Lenten season — you should compliment somebody every day — but if you are so inclined, maybe make it a habit of complimenting someone or telling a different friend that you love them for all 40 days of Lent!

The Lenten season ends with Holy Week — the last week of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday. Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, celebrated with a procession of palm branches at church services that parallels Jesus’ arrival in the city of Jerusalem. Later in the week comes Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, which commemorates the Washing of the Feet and the Last Supper. Good Friday is the reason why you get a day off of school, but it’s also the day Jesus dies on the cross. Holy Saturday is after that and is when Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. And finally comes Easter Sunday — the final day of Lent — which commemorates Jesus’ resurrection, or if you’re secular, the coming of the Easter Bunny.

With advancements in technology, more and more Christians are turning to apps, such as 40 acts challenge, to do Lent and prepare for Easter, making the ways of participating and practicing Lent limitless!