Image of Pancakes

Giving something up for Lent seems to be getting ever more popular in our society, adopted into the mainstream of our secular culture. Many people seem to recognise that it might do them good to abstain for a while from something that they normally find irresistible, and perhaps get a little bit of balance back in their lives.

What do people give up?

So what do people give up for Lent? The Catholic Church used to have very strict regulations surrounding the fasting period of Lent, what could be eaten on which days and time of day, but in our postmodern pick-and-mix world people aim for a plan that suits or challenges them. Every year surveys what Twitter users say they are giving up for lent and comes up with a top 100. Now clearly Twitter users aren’t representative of society, and what people say they are giving up may not be what they actually do, and a glance down the list suggests that some people are just joking or trying to be clever, but it is interesting nevertheless. You can see the full 2016 Twitter Lent Tracker at OpenBible, but the top ten on the list were:

  1. Chocolate
  2. Social networking
  3. Alcohol
  4. Twitter
  5. School
  6. Swearing
  7. Soda (fizzy drinks)
  8. Sweets
  9. Coffee
  10. Fast food

Looking at the list as a whole and excluding the funny comments it’s not surprising to see that they fall into two main categories:

  • Things we really like and think it would be a challenge to give up (chocolate, alcohol, coffee, social media, sex, fast food, Netflix, men/boys);
  • Things that are addictions or bad habits that we might struggle to give up but feel we ought to (swearing, smoking, drugs, shopping, procrastination, sarcasm).

Many entries on the list could easily be in both of these categories!

There is also a strong thread of humour (school, sleep, work, breathing, sobriety, virginity) and/or anti-religious wit (Lent, religion, Christianity, giving things up). Some are quite sad (people, feelings, hope).

What should I give up?

As in the above list, you could forego something that you really like, something that is a constant distraction or something that is an unhelpful habit, something that will challenge you for the whole period (if it’s something like smoking or takeaways it will save you good money too!). No cheating by giving up something you don’t even like or do! Oh, and it must be your decision, a free will choice.

Another option could be to give up a home comfort you take for granted but that many in the world don’t have, to concentrate your mind on how blessed you are and what it feels like for the other half. For instance, give up your pillow, or even your bed. If this spurs you to take action or to give – so much the better!

Changing what’s inside

Traditionally Lent consists of fasting and prayer. If the list above is ultimately based on the fasting, the growing trend of taking up an extra discipline is based on the prayer side. There are many  resources out there, both printed and on-line – just look up “lent resources”.

A good Lent challenge is 40 Acts, forty days of daily challenges and forty challenging thoughts. There are also group resources, children’s resources and prayers.

Pope Francis likes to quote the early Christian Mystic John Chrysostom who said: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”

Finally, when does Lent start and end?

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday (which you may know by another name such as Pancake Day or Mardi Gras). For the date of that see When is Easter this year? It lasts for forty days. If you were to count forty days starting with Ash Wednesday then the fortieth day would be Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. However, Sunday is supposed to be a day of celebration, not fasting, so it is more traditional to skip the Sundays in this period, which then makes the fortieth day Easter Saturday. Just in time for those Easter Eggs on Sunday morning! Hooray!

Don’t forget our very funny and thought-provoking drama script God in Your Cupboard, instantly downloadable and ready to use.



About the author: Writer of DramatisDei, dramatist and dreamer.