For eight years I taught in a girls’ school, and for six weeks of each of those years I used to hear students regularly say to each other: ‘I have given that up for Lent.’ In no other place I have ever heard so many people use those words with such consistent regularity. I am not sure how many of them knew exactly what they were saying. I often wondered if they even knew what Lent was. Nevertheless each year, on Ash Wednesday, there began the regular use of that phrase: ‘I have given that up for Lent.’
This year, because of the strange way in which the Church’s calendar sets the date for Easter, Lent begins early. Ash Wednesday, the official first day of Lent, is on the tenth of February. If I was still teaching in that school in Sussex I know, that from the morning of that day, all those students would be denying themselves of something because they had given it up for Lent.
Since those days I have become more aware of how often people do say that they have given something up for Lent. I often ponder on whether they realise that Lent is, historically, so much more than an annual dieting opportunity, or an annual period of detoxification. That, of course, is usually what is at the heart of all that self-denial. All those students were usually denying themselves nothing more than chocolate, or sweets, or some other fattening substance; all those other people were often denying themselves of alcohol. If only they knew that they were getting it wrong.