Randy Gast, vice president for administration at Concordia College in Bronxville, N.Y., has always given up chocolate during Lent. Gast, a 53-year-old Lutheran, is going without Kit Kat bars and M&M’s – his two favorite sweets – until Easter Sunday.
But this year, Gast is also sacrificing his use of Facebook, the social-networking site he joined to keep in touch with his wife — who works in Baltimore — and his four children, who aren’t living in New York anymore.
While Gast has given up chocolate for decades, Facebook is one of many newer things that Gast and other Christians may sacrifice for Lent, a 40-day period of repentance and renewal that is observed in preparation for Easter. Facebook, iPhones, BlackBerrys and fancy cell phones with built-in cameras were nonexistent during the 1990s but are now omnipresent.
The word Lent is derived from the Middle English “lente,” which means springtime.“I think Lent would be a time to tone down our need for technology because, let’s face it, it’s addictive,” said the Rev. Dr. William J. Damrow, pastor of St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in New Rochelle, N.Y. “Lent is an intensified period of time when we focus on our relationship with Christ. It’s springtime for the soul.”
The 40-day ritual, which represents the time period during which Satan tempted Jesus in the desert as revealed in the Bible, began Feb. 17 — Ash Wednesday — and ends April 3, the day before Easter. For some faiths, the six Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter aren’t considered part of the 40 days. Consequently, those who make Lenten sacrifices have the option to break their Lenten sacrifice for just that Sunday or to maintain their commitment.
“Lent is a time in the desert, away from the world,” said Jason Barone, a Roman Catholic who is studying to be a priest at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Neb., a village just southwest of Lincoln.
Barone, 26, added that he’s reducing his Internet usage to twice per week during Lent in accordance with his belief that “our self-denial is an extension of Christ’s self-denial.”
“Living in rural Nebraska, my main connection with the world is through the Internet,” Barone said. “This world is passing away and that which is news and ‘urgent’ today will be forgotten tomorrow. Lent is a good time to remind myself of that – it’s a time of putting first things first and second things second.”
Traditional Lenten practices include fasting, doing good deeds and giving alms, engaging in prayer and reflection, studying Scripture, and participating in worship services. Churches have midweek Lenten services to offer more time for worshippers to be with God in preparation for Holy Week. But Lent’s meaning is more than simply going to church.
Stephanie Hohl, a 24-year-old Lutheran from Tampa, Fla., said she’s not giving up anything this year, for no particular reason. But in previous years, Hohl sacrificed chocolate and sweets, as well as watching television.
“I felt that TV was becoming my ‘god,’” Hohl said. “I was watching it more than that I was doing anything else, and I decided that I should spend some of the time that I was not going to be watching TV to be studying his word.”
Despite a new interest in technological sacrifices, chocolate remains one of the most popular things people forgo. While this reality may help folks better remember Jesus’ sacrifices, it also affects sales at chocolate and candy stores. The week before Valentine’s Day is usually a plus for these outlets, as many people buy chocolate for their sweethearts. But a dip in sales may come soon after.
At Mondel Chocolates, a store at Broadway and 114th Street in New York, the owners observed an increase in sales on Valentine’s Day but expect business to slow during Lent, when many chocolate lovers forbid themselves to buy it.
They’re ready for the drop, a store employee who requested anonymity said. “This happens every year. It’s not a surprise.”
Meanwhile, Eugene Greenlaw, owner of Bayside Chocolates in Lubec, Maine, predicted that his sales will remain steady during Lent. His store offers a variety of handmade gourmet chocolates, including bonbons and truffles.
Greenlaw, whose store is located in the easternmost town in the U.S., said he has never noticed a decline in sales during Lent. “I think there are enough other people with different religions that offset the people who recognize Lent.”
Giving up something precious isn’t easy; human nature may intervene. But as winter approaches its end, Damrow suggests that Lent is an ideal time for a change in habit, especially with some major holidays having occurred recently.
Lent comes just in the nick of time, Damrow said as he sat behind his laptop in his pastoral study. “We all experience the excess of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. It’s almost like now’s the time to rein it in a little bit.”