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Lent (Christian)

What is Lent?

In Christian tradition, Lent recalls when Jesus went into the desert to fast and pray before carrying out his public ministry. Jesus is the central figure in Christianity and recognised by most Christian denominations as the son of God. It is a particularly solemn period of time for many Christians.

When is Lent?

For most Christians, Lent begins each year on the holy day of Ash Wednesday, which is 1 March 2017 until 15 April 2017. Lent lasts until Easter Saturday for most branches of Christianity. However, the Catholic Church ends Lent on the evening of Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) with the remaining period until Easter Sunday evening (26 March 2016) being holy days known as the Easter Triduum.

What do people do during Lent?

Practices and observances throughout Lent vary according to the branch of Christianity concerned, and the beliefs of the individual.

Many Christians will choose to fast or abstain throughout Lent. This may involve giving up certain 'luxuries' such as coffee or smoking, or may involve complete fasting from any food or drink other than at certain times of the day. Some holy days such as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are considered by some Christians to be days when meat should not be eaten.

Lent and Easter are times of additional prayer and holy days, when Christians are encouraged to attend extra church services, some of which do not fall on weekends.

Lent is also a time for 'almsgiving' which involves giving to others and can include making charitable donations and participating in charitable events.

Key workplace considerations

  • Observing Lent may be noticeable (for example not eating at lunchtime) and so it is often sensible for employees to inform their managers of the fact they are fasting or abstaining. 
  • Fasting or abstaining may affect people in different ways (for example some people may understandably become a little irritable or slightly tired at times) and some understanding from managers and colleagues can be helpful.
  • Although breaks should be kept, a shorter or longer lunch may make it easier for an employee to manage their workload if they wish to take time off to attend church services.
  • Employees may ask for additional leave for religious reasons at a time where general demand for leave is typically high. There is no legal requirement to accommodate requests but planning ahead can help and may be met through flexible working arrangements, annual leave or unpaid leave. It is generally unadvisable to offer paid special leave for such time off requests because an employer needs to ensure they do not discriminate in favour of a particular religion.
  • Awareness and understanding of Lent and other religious festivals can be aided by posting information on staff notice boards or newsletters etc.
  • Lent may offer an opportunity for closer team relations and teamwork - for example, by joining in or supporting charitable events.
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