Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
- Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Tuesday, symbolic of the last blow out before Lent begins.
- Elsewhere, Mardi Gras and Carnival are celebrated for the same purpose.
- Ash Wednesday is named for the liturgical practice of being marked with ashes as a sign of repentance.
- The ashes used are from the burning of the palm leaves or crosses from last year's Palm Sunday.
- Lent is the season of fasting, prayer and reflection leading up to Easter, which is forty days long not counting feast days (Sundays) when the tradition is that the fast can be broken.
The various churches and traditions observe the season and the fast in different ways, including abstaining from certain foods, more rigourous fasting, different patterns of worship and liturgy, or other forms of abstinence. Last year and this year I've known people observing Lent by abstaining from some form of technology, for example internet access outside of work. Virtual Methodist proposed a full-on Lo-Tec Lent, but I'm not sure how many takers he had (and he has himself admitted defeat).
Lent and Easter are times when some churches who would normally run from such things let their liturgical side show a little, and the Lenten fast seems to remain a fairly common observance in these parts — anecdotally, of course, since I haven't carried out a detailed survey! Perhaps its popularity is connected to the waning of New Year's resolutions two or three months down the line, as inspiration to put that chocolate bar down?