Have you ever given up something for Lent, the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday? If you said, “Yes,” it was probably your favorite food, say, potato chips or chocolate. Or maybe cigarettes – hoping it would help you quit smoking. Well, this year, the way people participate in Lent is changing. It’s moving beyond bad habits, and into the wider world of social causes.
More than 1,000 people have already signed up for the Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast. The idea is to observe Lent while also saving energy. Say, by walking instead of driving, and turning down the thermostat and wearing a sweater. A growing number of people have announced that they’re giving up Facebook and Twitter for Lent, because that has a much bigger impact on their lives than food. For the first time, the United Methodist Church is urging its almost eight million members to refrain from drinking alcohol during Lent. Church leaders point out alcohol is forbidden, period, but they know that not everyone follows that tenet. Lent gives them the opportunity to discuss the impact alcohol has on individual lives and families.
Of course, more conventional ways of fasting and abstaining at Lent haven't completely disappeared. Sixty percent of American Catholics — even those who rarely go to church — don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent. In the UK, the Christian Vegetarian Association is taking the “no meat” vow one step further. They’re trying to revive the ancient practice of giving up meat completely during Lent, and they’re doing it to combine Lent with a bigger purpose. That’s because vegetarian diets have been shown to improve health, reduce animal cruelty, and release less pollution into the environment.