Lent is the period of 40 days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar.
Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a time when Christians remember the 40 days and 40 nights Jesus spent alone in the desert without food whilst being tempted by the Devil. During Lent, Christians try to overcome their own faults because they believe that it was man’s sins which led Jesus to be sacrificed.
The Christian Churches that observe Lent in the 21st century use it as a time for prayer and penance. Only a small number of people today fast for the whole of Lent, although some maintain the practice on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It is more common these days for people to surrender a particular vice such as favourite foods or cigarettes.
Whatever the sacrifice, it is a reflection of Jesus’ deprivation in the wilderness and a test of self-discipline.
It is important to note that it is not just Christians that take part in fasting. Different religions fast for different reasons. For instance, Jews celebrate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is when Jews believe they are punished for past sins and can pray for the future. It is a solemn time when Jews feel they have to show they want forgiveness for their sins by practicing self-discipline. They do this through fasting and praying.
Muslims have Ramadan. This is the month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. They remember the time when the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book, from the Angel Jibril.
Hindu’s fast at festivals and at other times to show their devotion to the Hindu deities (Gods). They fast on certain days of the month such as Purnima (full moon) and Ekadasi (the 11th day of the fortnight) and also on certain days of the week depending on their favourite God and its special day.
However, there are some religions, such as Buddhism and Sikhism, that don’t encourage fasting because they don’t believe it helps deepen religious strength.