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Words on Lent from a Secular Catholic
Growing up, Easter was always about candy, egg hunts, and getting your picture taken with a guy in a bunny suit. I knew more about the meaning of Passover (thanks to Rugrats) than I did about Easter. It wasn't until when I asked my best friend in high school about Lent that I found out that Easter was just the end and that I had missed the point entirely. To this day, I still don't think I understand the rules.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, but the day before it is Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). Aside from the epic parties that happen in New Orleans, Fat Tuesday is likely to be a celebration of the Last Supper. The practice of pouring ash or soot on your head as a sign of penance goes back hundreds of years and is part of the observance of Lent (although now it's more like painting your forehead with ash in the shape of something). Giving up something for Lent is supposed to honor or emulate Jesus' fast since it would be impractical for everyone who observes it to go on a hunger strike every year. Thus, you are rewarded on Easter for following through with it. However, this is only the half of it.
In addition to giving up something for the duration of Lent, there are certain days you're not supposed to eat meat. This is the part where I think they made it needlessly complicated. Ash Wednesday is one of them, and then every Friday after that between then and Easter Sunday. I'm not a vegetarian, and remembering which days I'm supposed to eat only fish or cheese instead of meat is difficult, especially when there are leftovers in the house that will go bad if I don't eat them. In this case, I think Jesus would prefer that I not waste food no matter what day it is. I don't mind having a day to observe his sacrifice by not eating meat for a day, but not every week. Other people have told me that you're supposed to give up meat for all of Lent and that you're supposed to give up all snacks too. Every time I think I have a handle on this, someone changes the rules on me!
The problem with Lent is that it's steeped in tradition, and apparently no one can agree on what those traditions are or how to properly observe them. I don't like the fact that we are forced not to eat certain foods on certain days, or even that we have to eat certain foods for Easter (i.e. ham) whether we like it or not. Doing that in addition to picking one thing to give up is superfluous. One should just be able to choose how one will observe this long holiday in one's own way without being criticized by others. Childhood seemed much simpler and a lot more fun, even if it was missing the point.