The Lent Experiment

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Many highlight the 9th March through to the 23rd April in their calendars with bright colours and exclamation marks, preparing for Lent. The Wessex Scene explores this weird and wonderful tradition that is to Easter what Advent is to Christmas.

The basic concept of Lent, giving something up for forty days, is rewarded with sweet success afterwards: the first bites of milky, melting chocolate after six weeks of struggle. Many people around the UK will soon tick off the first day of six weeks of temptation.

We all know the deal: think of a vice of yours and totally give it up between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It is an act of self-denial and penitence, a way to provide space for reflection and praying to get closer to God, although Lent is not traditionally mentioned in the Bible.

Interestingly, Lent has taken a different turn in the 21st century, transforming the religious act into a secular, cultural event. Since the 9th century, restrictions regarding Lenten fasting have become less severe.

As a result, the occasion is today more relaxed in Western Europe and has come to focus less on ‘spiritual self-improvement’ and to instead entail giving up modern vices, such as Facebook and watching TV. In 2009, Italian Catholic bishops urged people to give up texting and iPods to stop virtual social interaction.

As we all know, Lent is the time for personal challenge and self-improvement. It is up to each and one to find a vice and face the hardest temptations when taking it away. Giving up junk food, crunchy crisps, alcohol and smoking are some common ideas, whereas Christians would give something up alongside reading scriptures or giving to charity. Amusingly, Prince Charles is said to have given up lunch for Lent in 2000, a curious way to battle maybe an unhealthy problem of his.

Food, however, is only one of many things to give up. People who want to challenge, and maybe change, their lifestyles look for other vices. Addiction to porn, online shopping and buying Lottery tickets are some slightly more serious vices one can deal with.

Another Lent challenge is to change personal traits one is not happy with. On the Internet, we can read of people wanting to get rid of their ‘always quitting’ attitudes. To go without make-up or to get more comfortable without it is another clever Lent choice. Author Susie Boyt gave up her small talk about other people in 2003, not wanting to be remembered as the one who ‘never forgot a grudge’ at her funeral.

A friend of a student interviewed is said to have given up spoons and trousers (not ideal for boys!). Imagine the difficulties with soup, cereal and porridge – even stirring a cup of tea! And by not wearing trousers, the washing pile must have expanded rapidly. Even though spoons and trousers are not vices, it shows that Lent can also be a fun project.

The student revealed that her choice for taking part in Lent derives from “the appreciation to be had when Easter comes and the chocolate, the lunch or the online shopping button is in front of you. It is astonishing how these common, every-day things can suddenly seem so heavenly”.

“After Lent”, she said, “normal things are so much more appreciated”. With no mention of religion, is this answer an indication that Lent is becoming less about getting closer to God and more about giving up modern day vices?

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