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Why Do Christians Give Up Something for Lent? And Other Lent, Ash Wednesday Facts

What is the meaning of ashes on the forehead? What food is thought to have been developed during Lent? Here are some facts about the history of the Christian observation leading up to Easter.

Lent begins today, on Ash Wednesday, marking the 40-day period in Christianity in which Jesus went into the desert to fast and pray, and leading to observation of Holy Week, which commemorates Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Many churches will offer special Ash Wednesday services to mark the start of the observation. In Apple Valley, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church will hold Ash Wednesday services at noon, 4:30 p.m., 5:45 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

How much do you know about these traditions and facts associated with the Lenten season?

1. Many Christians know the ashes applied to the forehead on Ash Wednesday are meant to be a reminder of man's mortality and the need to repent sin. But ashes are also a recurring biblical symbol to show regret, sorrow and humility. Often, someone who is penitent wears ashes and sackcloth.

2. The ashes come from the burning of palms collected from the previous year's Palm Sunday service. The ashes are mixed with holy water, fumigated with incense and typically applied in the shape of a cross.

3. The idea of "giving up" something for Lent is meant to be a sacrifice and an act of self-discipline, similar to Jesus fasting in the wilderness, but it's also meant to cause the practitioner to think about his/her faith and to replace bad behavior with something positive.

4. Ash Wednesday is a major holy day for Roman Catholics but is also observed by many Protestants, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians and United Methodists. The Eastern Orthodox church does not observe Ash Wednesday and begins Lent on "Clean Monday."

5. Up until the 7th century, Lent began on a Sunday. It was switched to a Wednesday so the number of days would add up to 40. There are actually 46 days between the start of Lent and Holy Thursday, the last day of Lent, but Sundays are not counted.

6. Fat Tuesday, also known as Shrove Tuesday, has become associated with decadence before sacrifice, but the practice started by people needing to empty their pantries of foods that were restricted during Lent. The term "carnival" is derived from the Latin "carne vale," meaning "goodbye to meat" or "goodbye to flesh."

7. Pretzels are believed to have been developed during Lent. Lenten fasting used to be very strict, with people being prohibited from eating meat and all things that come from flesh, including milk, cheese and eggs. Snacks were allowed during the day, however, so people ate pretzels, which are made of flour, water and salt.

Sources: www.churchyear.net, www.religionfacts.com; www.catholiceducation.org

Will you observe Lent? Will you give up something for Lent? Leave a comment below.

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