Lent will begin on Wednesday, February 13, this year. The Lenten season is the time period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday (40 days not counting any Sundays). Churches typically have special alter linens and sermon topics as the church prepares for the most important religious holiday of the year.
There is much about Easter that really has nothing to do with the religious meaning of the day: bunnies, chickens, Easter eggs, candy, and Easter baskets. All of those things are fun and memorable to children and adults, but I try to also do something else that keeps my heart centered around the significance of what Easter really is: I give up something for Lent.
I always need to think ahead about what I choose to give up (or take on) for the Lenten season. Over the years I have chosen to observe this religious practice I have given up things such as: gum, chocolate, soda, dessert, not drinking any beverage but water, and I had taken on reading from the bible or a devotional daily. I have known people to give up t.v., eat healthy, exercise daily, or even not sit with legs crossed (this one is something one of my Stepford Sister's gave up in H.S.!).
For me, I would like to choose something that is going to be difficult and challenging to me: not yelling at my step-children or husband when I get upset. Basically, keep my cool when I'm not happy about something that is happening or going to happen.
One thing I try to remember during Lent is that this practice of giving up something is a symbolic gesture to try and sacrifice as our Lord did for us when he died on the cross to save our sins. I believe that being a loving and almighty God, that if we fail we won't be looked down upon but that we tried to do something and had a moment of weakness. All you can do is pray about it and try again!
There is one alternative to lent that I was told about in high school by a friend that I have never really looked much further into, but it made sense. The alternative is that Sunday's do not count toward the 40 days of lent between Ash Wednesday (beginning of Lent) and Easter Sunday. If you look at a calender and count this, it is true. The explanation she gave me is that Sunday does not count and that you are allowed to cheat because it is more realistic to achieve being successful at your goal if you are allowed to do whatever it is on Sunday. From my knowledge, this is practiced Methodists, but not practiced by Catholics who also give up items for lent. *Note: I am NOT a religion expert, so you might have different stories or opinions on the subject, I'm just sharing my experience.
To me, cheating once a week makes lent a little too easy-I want to feel like I am really sacrificing.
The one thing I have always given myself a pass with: on St. Patrick's day a Shamrock shake from McDonald's!!! Because this is a limited time product, I have worked in allowing myself that special treat. For me planning it ahead is not breaking my sacrifice. What I feel is breaking the sacrifice is when it is done on a whim or in a time of weakness. Luckily this year, shamrock shakes do not conflict with what I am giving up!
Regardless of your decision to give up something for lent, remember that if you have a friend or family member who chooses this practice it is important not to dismiss their sacrifice by trying to convince them to cheat or give up all together. It might be a difficult thing for them to give up, don't spoil their hard efforts and will power!