The Tradition of Lent

The season of Lent is something we have all experienced.  It is probably a tradition in most of your churches, and I know that Calvin Christian recognizes its start on Ash Wednesday every year.  It is something we have all grown used to, and we don’t often think about even though it is one of the most important traditions we, as Christians, celebrate.

Last week Wednesday, March 8, marked the halfway point of Lent.  With roungly fourteen days left, I decided to ask some teachers and students around school what they are giving up.

Alyssa Kiekover: This year Igave up pop tarts.  It’s terrible.

Mr. Olthoff: NO!  Of course you don’t know if I’m saying no to the question or no to whether I gave anything up.

Josh Haan: This year I am giving up giving up things so HA!

Mr. Tameling: I gave up the U2 fan forum.  It’s a site that I like to go on a lot.

Marisa Fopma:  I gave up going to bed past 1:00 in the morning.


While not all of these are serious, the tradition of lent actually started as a much more strict tradition than the one we celebrate now.  The tradition of Lent started almost 2000 years ago and dates all the way back to around 130 A.D. The only knowledge of this tradition’s start is from a man named Irenaus of Lyons, a father of an early church.  He wrote about a season similar to modern lent but instead of lasting forty days it lasted only two or three. And instead of giving things up, Christians would simply fast. Not much else is known about this origin, but it is the first known Christian celebrated season similar to what we celebrate nowadays.   

A few hundred years later, in 325 A.D., the church council of Nicea discussed this same idea of fasting in the name of Jesus but instead extended the season to a full forty days.  They originally intended this for just new believers to cleanse themselves before their baptism but before long the idea caught on with the rest and soon many people were practicing it.

This tradition spread fast, and soon people all over the world were fasting for the season, but no one seemed to be fasting the same way.  The countries further east only fasted on weekends while churches further west fasted all week but for shorter periods. A man named Gregory the Great saw a problem with this difference in celebration and so he decided to make a change.  He moved the beginning of lent to a Wednesday instead of a Sunday. This is what we now know as Ash Wednesday. He also started the tradition of marking foreheads with ash in the sign of the cross as a way to remember both our mortality and God’s ultimate grace.  And so with these new dates and rules set in place, churches everywhere would start to celebrate together rather than separately.

Some two hundred years later, about the 800’s, the rules of lent were finally beginning to relax to what we know today.  In addition to fasting, Christians would give something of value up for the forty days. In the 1400’s, churches slowly began phasing out fasting until all that was left of lent was what we celebrate today.  

As you can see, Lent is a tradition with a long history that I can only begin to cover in one article.  It is something that I believe is so important we do as Christians because it reminds us of our simple sinfulness and mortality and of God’s amazing Grace.  It is a forty day reminder of how much we are loved by God! And in the end, it doesn’t matter how we celebrate as long as we use it for one purpose to honor God!