When does Lent start? Dates of the Christian observance in 2021 - and meaning of Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday

The Christian festival is observed in the days leading up to Easter Sunday and includes Holy Week

Lent is an important period in the Christian calendar in the build up to Easter Sunday.

It's observed by individuals from various churches and sects of Christianity, including the Anglicans, Methodists, Reformed and Roman Catholics.

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The festival is part of the church's liturgical year which includes advent in December and other major Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter.

Lent is observed every year in the weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. (Pic: Shutterstock)

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But what is its origins, when does it fall in 2021, how long for and how is it observed?

All those questions and more are answered below.

What is Lent?

Lent derives from an old English word 'lencten', meaning spring season, when the religious festival is observed each year.

It takes many forms but is generally a period of reflection and preparation, with many fasting food and festivities before Easter.

This can be done through prayer, penance, mortifying the flesh, repentance of sins, almsgiving and self-denial.

Few still fast for the duration of Lent, which marks the sacrifices of Jesus Christ in the days leading to his crucifixion, but it is still observed.

According to the Bible, Jesus went into the desert to fast in preparation for his ministry during which time he endured temptation by Satan.

Lent, for many, is a time for giving up certain luxuries, such as chocolate, alcohol, smoking, to demonstrate their own sacrifice and to reflect those made by Jesus.

Christians are "encouraged to find [their] own method of confronting [their] sinfulness, remembering [their] mortality, and giving thanks for the gift of salvation [they] receive through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ," according to the United Methodist Church.

When is Lent 2021?

In 2021, Lent begins on Wednesday 17 February and ends on Saturday 3 April.

It begins on Ash Wednesday, which follows Shrove Tuesday, when priests gather ashes from previous Palm Sundays and rub them on the heads of their congregation.

It is also a time for people to enjoy making and eating pancakes.

How long is Lent?

Lent is 40 days long to reflect the 40 days Jesus Christ spent in the desert leading up to his crucifixion, which this period includes.

It is a six-week festival, not including Sundays, in the build up to Easter when Jesus rose from the dead three days after he was executed.

The period of 40 days has significance in Jewish-Christian scripture.

The flood which destroyed the Earth was brought about by 40 days and nights of rain, in Genesis. The Hebrews spent 40 days in the wilderness before reaching the land promised to them by God. Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the 10 commandments.

What is Holy Week?

Holy Week starts on Palm Sunday and not only symbolises the end of Lent but it also marks the lead up to the celebrations of Easter.

It includes Maundy Thursday (the day of the Last Supper) and ends on Holy Saturday and is described as "the most solemn week of the Christian year".