There’s a whole website dedicated to telling you when Easter will be for the next eight years or so.

Crazy? Maybe. It is the Internet we’re talking about here. Easter tends to jump around every year and be quite random. There’s a science to it all, though. Do you know how the date of Easter is calculated? The Council of Nicea (read: Christian council that happened a ridiculously long time ago…like year 300ish long time ago) set the date of Easter as the first Sunday following the paschal full moon. The paschal full moon is the first full moon occuring on or after the vernal equinox. This is with the Gregorian calendar, the ones that the Western Christians use.

So there’s a method to finding out when Easter is! By knowing when Easter is, you can also tell when Lent begins. Lent is the church season before Easter (the Church has seasons too, and they’re not the same as the spring-summer-autumn-winter we’re used to) and consists of the forty days before Easter (not including Sundays, which gets confusing but the math works out, I promise). It’s famous for being a time that people “give up” something. People try to go forty days (not including Sundays, though real troopers include the Sundays as well) without something, whether that’s smoking or Facebook or bread. That’s Lent, to a certain extent, but there’s more to it.

Lent is supposed to be a time of prayer and contemplation. It leads up to Easter, a celebration of Jesus rising from the dead. But in order for that to happen, Jesus dies first. It’s a sad event. If you’re Catholic, you believe Jesus died for your sins, so there’s some character-building time, so to speak. There’s some time to draw inward (and quite a few people need to draw inward after the Mardi Gras celebrations) and really look at yourself.

Rule 1 of character building: don’t be flashy. Running around and telling everyone what you’ve given up? Probably not in the Lenten spirit (and neither is giving up something that’s easy for you, for that matter–like speaking a language you’ve never head of or eating food that isn’t in season). We’re thinking character building, prayer, contemplation.

There is a giving up aspect for Lent, sure. We’re supposed to give up something important to us, a vice or a luxury that others might not have. We go on a journey during Lent to grow in the not having and hope to end up somewhere different from where we were before. But Lent is not all depravity. I find that the definition of Lent as “that time where you give up something for a certain amount of time” is kind of empty. There’s a giving aspect to the giving up, a part that says that we need to spend more time with the people we love, give them our time and attention. We should think about our neighbors, think about giving someone something they really need. Maybe we do give that clothing drive a second thought. Maybe we participate. Maybe we rededicate ourselves to our studies or goals (always a good thing to do after Mardi Gras break).

Finally, Lent encourages you to spend time with yourself. Take some time out from the friends and technology and stress and chill. Go for a walk. You might be surprised what you can uncover from just an hour alone with your thoughts. If you’re looking for tips, I found this video to be really helpful. It’s a gorgeous poem set to music called “How to Be Alone.” You don’t have to be Catholic to integrate the principles of Lent into life. The season has some good lessons to teach.

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