Understanding the Dates & Practices of Lent
For Christians of all traditions, the most important holy days of the year are Christmas and Easter, yet each day is part of a much larger “holy season.” Christmas is preceded by four weeks of the “Advent” season; Easter is preceded by six and half weeks of “Lent.” Lent begins with “Ash Wednesday,” which is 46 days before Easter. Traditionally, Christians use the 40 weekdays between Ash Wednesday and Easter as a time of introspection and self-reflection. Christians often engage in some sort of self-denial during this period (the practice of “giving something up for Lent”) and engage in celebration and feasting on the six Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Christians around the world celebrate Christmas and Advent at the same time, but the Christian traditions engage in their Lenten practices at slightly different times. In 2012, Lent runs from Feb. 22 to April 8 for Roman Catholics and Protestants. For Christians in the Orthodox tradition, Lent runs from Feb. 29 to April 15. You can learn about distinctive Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Lenten practices by visiting the sites below.
Calculating the Dates of Lent
Because the dates of Lent are based on a lunar calendar rather than a solar calendar, the specific date of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, varies from year to year. Additionally, Western Christians (Catholics and Protestants) celebrate Lent at a different time than do Eastern Christians (the Orthodox churches).
NEW! Naval Oceanography Portal – Western dates for Ash Wednesday, Lent and Easter
Since 1583, Catholics and Protestants have celebrated Lent based on calculations determined by the Gregorian calendar. All dates for Lent from 1583 to 9999 are available on this site.
timeanddate – Eastern dates for Ash Wednesday, Lent and Easter (find it on the ipl2)
The Orthodox Churches celebrate Lent based on calculations determined by the Julian calendar. Recent and upcoming dates for Orthodox Lent are available on this site.
Ash Wednesday as a Lenten Practice
The four most important dates within Lent are Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter), Good Friday (the traditional date of Jesus’ crucifixion on the Friday before Easter) and Easter (the final day of Lent when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus). The only one of these days which ever falls in February is Ash Wednesday, a day which many Christians celebrate by burning the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations and then using those ashes to draw a blackened cross on their foreheads. (The ashen cross is symbolic of repentance and remorse for sin and evil.)
NEW! Ash Wednesday
This site provides an ecumenical overview of Ash Wednesday observances.
The Three Great Traditions of Christianity & Lent
Three great traditions of Christianity exist in the contemporary world: Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Protestantism. The Orthodox Church is the most common form of Christianity in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East. The Catholic and Protestant Churches are the most common forms of Christianity in North and South America, in Western Europe and in Africa. Orthodox and Catholic churches all engage in Lenten practices. Not all Protestant churches engage in Lenten practices, but most do.
American Catholic (find it on the ipl2)
This site explains the history and significance of Lenten practices from the perspective of Catholic Christians.
NEW! The Voice
This site explains the history and significance of Lenten practices from the perspective of Protestant Christians.
The Great Lent – A Week by Week Meaning (find it on the ipl2)
This site explains the history and significance of Lenten practices from the perspective of Orthodox Christians.