Traditions of Lenten season
Jennifer Lee Preyss
Feb. 17, 2012 at midnight
Updated Feb. 16, 2012 at 8:17 p.m.
Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent in the Christian faith, marking the start of a 46-day-long season of prayer, fasting, reflection, alms-giving, confession and the willful sacrifice of personal vices.
Lent culminates with Christianity's holiest holiday, Easter Sunday, on April 8. Traditionally, Lent is 40 days, but the six Sundays in the 46-day period are not counted, representing Jesus' victory over sin and death.
The observance of Lent represents the 40 days Jesus spent fasting and praying in the desert before he began his ministry, and the 40 hours he is thought to have spent in the tomb after his crucifixion.
Lent prepares the Christian believer for the celebration of Easter, which honors the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.
Some Protestant Christians observe Lent, including Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Anglicans, and the practice is widely observed in Roman Catholic churches across the globe.
Lent includes many calendar events throughout the season. Here's a look at a few traditions observed during Lent, though some may vary by church and denomination.
WHAT: Mardi Gras
WHAT: Tuesday, Feb. 21
INFO: Known as "Fat Tuesday," Mardi Gras is pre-Lenten festival of feasting and partying, held annually the Tuesday before Lenten fasting begins. Mardi Gras is also observed by non-Christians.
WHAT: Ash Wednesday
WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 22
INFO: Christians mark their foreheads with ash to publicly demonstrate repentance. In biblical times, ashes represented mourning and sadness for sins.
WHAT: Laetare Sunday
WHEN: Sunday, March 18
INFO: In Latin, Laetare means to rejoice. Laetare Sunday is traditionally observed in the Catholic church on the fourth Sunday in Lent.
WHAT: Holy Week
WHEN: Begins Sunday, April 1
INFO: The week before Easter Sunday and the last week of Lent.
WHAT: Palm Sunday
WHEN: Sunday, April 1
INFO: The Sunday before Easter, commemorates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, where worshipers waved palm branches and laid them down on his path. The palms are thought to be symbols of triumph and victory.
WHAT: Maundy Thursday
WHEN: Thursday, April 5
INFO: Also known as Holy Thursday, commemorates Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples, which later became the scriptural foundation for Holy Communion or Eucharist.
WHAT: Good Friday
WHEN: Friday, April 6
INFO: The Friday before Easter, commemorates and honors the day of Jesus' crucifixion. It is also known as Holy Friday.
WHEN: Sunday, April 8
INFO: Also known as Resurrection Sunday, Easter celebrates the day Jesus was resurrected from death and concludes the season of Lent. The 50-days following Easter are called Eastertide, celebrating Jesus' ascension into heaven.