Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of Lent the ancient Christian festival in the 40 days leading up to Easter. Easter this year is on March 31st. However, if you do a quick calculation you’ll notice that it’s more than 40 days away from February 13th. That’s because Lent lasts for 40 weekdays, excluding Sundays, so it is 6½ weeks in duration.
Part of the Lenten tradition is that of fasting, giving up something, as a way of preparation for Easter. What is given up is not what matters most; it is the idea of giving up something important to you which helps to focus the mind. Some people give up alcohol, sex, Facebook, or smoking, alongside the more common chocolate or meat.
Some years ago I happened to be speaking at a primary school assembly on Ash Wednesday and so I asked the children what they might give up for Lent. The usual answers came back: chocolate, fizzy drinks, sweets, etc. That is, until we came to Reggie.
‘What will you give up Reggie?’ I asked. ‘Vegetables!’ came the swift reply. Some years later, in response to a similar question, came another clever reply from a little boy. ‘I plan to give up homework for Lent.’
I don’t know what you plan to give up for Lent. And by the way it’s never to late to start, so even if you missed the beginning of Lent you can start giving up something now. I figured that I better give up something that matters to me, so I’m planning to give up suits & ties. That will be a more significant thing for me to give up than, say chocolate or meat.
What might that entail? Well, it means I don’t plan wear a tie at all during Lent (bit of a challenge for me, especially in more formal contexts) and if I wear a jacket it won’t be part of a suit. However, I am aiming to wear a jacket as little as possible.
Last year I gave up suits for Lent but still wore a tie and still wore jackets. Apart from one or two occasions in which I would have normally dressed quite formally it was not as big a deal as it felt at the beginning of Lent. This year, the move away from ties and the intention to minimise the wearing of a jacket will mean dressing far more informally for work than I have been accustomed to over the last 25 years.
We’ll see how I get on. I’m anticipating some withdrawal symptoms….