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The Lent challenge

The month of January is not complete without stories of people attempting to do ‘Dry January’, that sometimes doomed attempt to last for the first 31 days of the year without drinking any alcoholic beverages. What better way to shake off the overindulgence of Christmas?

Well, I guess – as is the case with all of those new year’s resolutions about doing more exercise – it’s the thought that counts. Some manage it, some don’t – and I suspect that for those who don’t make it to the end of the month there may be mitigating circumstances, such as the facts that January is the coldest month of the year and the days are short, and as such maybe it is not the best of times to give up drinking. So, fair play to those who managed.

As you’ve probably guessed, I didn’t bother. But all the talk of it did get me thinking about other time periods over which my alcohol intake could be curtailed. Having missed the Dry January boat, I started wondering about giving up alcohol for Lent.

Occurring at the time when winter slowly begins to give way to spring, Lent takes place at a time of year when it is less cold than January (but not by much), although it does last longer (40 days, as opposed to 31). It also has the advantage of being a traditional period of self-denial in Christian countries; giving something up for Lent goes back a long way.

The idea is that Lent commemorates the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness – and it lasts from Ash Wednesday (that’s today) to Easter. Traditionally it was a period of fasting (no fats, eggs, red meat) although in some denominations this has changed to giving up something (booze, sweets, smoking) for the duration. As the date of Easter changes each year, the exact dates of Lent are subject to change on a year-by-year basis. However, I did a bit of checking on the calendar and I noticed that the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday is in fact 46 days long. So what gives?

I did a bit of online research, and I wasn’t entirely surprised to find out that there are, give or take, almost as many different definitions of what actually constitutes Lent as there are denominations of the Christian faith (and, as there are different dates for Easter – it’s 27th March for Western Christians this year, while for the Eastern Orthodox it’s on 1st May – the Lenten period has different dates according to one’s denomination).

One definition I found was that the extra days are the Sundays that fall within the Lenten period; according to some churches, Sundays are not supposed to be fasting days and so don’t count as part of Lent, which leaves you with 40. In others, it’s the Saturdays that are exempt, while in others there are no exceptions and you’ve just got to fast until Easter. Alternative definitions have Lent beginning on the Sunday after Ash Wednesday and not allowing for any days off, which means that it ends on (I think) the day after Palm Sunday. Another definition has Lent beginning on the Monday before Ash Wednesday and lasting for 40 days straight, to be followed by a separate period of fasting for Holy Week (the week between Palm Sunday and Easter). I’m not sure what happens with regards to the extra day when Lent begins in February when it’s a leap year. I am sure that I’m a little bit confused.

The idea of not including Sundays does have a certain appeal. All things considered, though, it feels like a bit of a cheat when I’m not intending to fast, merely give up drinking.

I, therefore, am defining Lent as 40 days starting with Ash Wednesday, with no days off. To put this into a bit of context, I am pretty sure that the longest I’ve gone without drinking alcohol in my adult life was the two weeks I spent in the Sudan, where it’s banned.

Challenge accepted…

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