What is Lent?
Lent is the 40 day period before Easter which runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday (the day before Good Friday).
Where does the word Lent come from?
The word Lent itself derives from the Germanic root for Spring (specifically Old English lencten) and was also the Anglo-Saxon name for March - lenct. (source : Wikipaedia)
What happens at Lent?
Fasting was and still is a traditional part of Lent. People are supposed to practice abstenance. Fasting during Lent allows Christians to empathise more fully with Jesus' suffering.
There are non Christian parallel periods of fasting in all the Abrahamic religions, pointing to the fact that this period of fasting has ancient roots.
Alongside the spiritual benefits of a period devoted to fasting and prayer there were wholly practical reasons for introducing such a practice.
One theory for this is that Lent comes at during spring, but before the first of the year's crops are available. Lent comes around at the time of year when, for early communities, food was at its most scarce. So, turning hunger into a religious virtue at this time of year was a good way to make the lean time more bareable for all.
Those who accept this theory point to it as as an example of religion being a powerful force for social cohesion and aiding the needy.
At the end of lent, the festival of easter is marked by feasting. After 40 days of self denial, chocolate eggs are particularly welcome.