Who is giving up what for Lent?
As the period of fasting begins today Kerry McKittrick finds out what local personalities plan to do...if anything
When it comes to giving up bad habits or resisting earthly temptations, there are few better times in the year to kick-start a new regime than Lent.
The six weeks before Easter Sunday are traditionally a period of sacrifice and reflection, which is marked by Christians across the world through a symbolic abstention from anything from meat to alcohol to chocolate.
While the period itself is a commemoration of the 40 days and nights that Jesus spent fasting in the desert, resisting the Devil's temptation, it has nonetheless gained a place on the cultural calendar for believers and non-believers alike, many of whom will take the opportunity to give up those daily vices, either as a spiritual tribute or just a temporarily healthy lifestyle choice.
But what are the things people find easiest – or hardest – to stay away from during the Lent period?
As Lent begins today, we talk to some well known people about what, if anything they are giving up and if it still has relevance in these modern times.
Lynda Bryans (50), is married to UUP leader and former broadcaster Mike Nesbitt (56). After a successful career in TV, Lynda balances running media production company Take I Take II with her husband, lecturing at the Belfast Metropolitan College and being mum to PJ (18), and Christopher (16). She says:
"I don't plan to give anything up for Lent and I never do. I'm not particularly big on it. To me it's more about religion rather than Christianity. I think it's more important to use that period to make a difference, like doing something positive.
"I can see why people do it and I'm not criticising people who do. If it helps to deepen your faith or gives you more empathy then why not?
"I traditionally give up something at the start of the year, not like a New Year's resolution, but just because I want to look at myself and improve myself."
Alex Maskey (64), is a Sinn Fein MLA for South Belfast. He is married to Liz and has two sons, Niall (36) and Sean (33). He says:
"I try my best at Lent – it's one of those things that's ingrained in you from a young age.
"I make an effort not to shout at people as much and not to indulge in sweets as well – I have an awful sweet tooth.
"In serious terms, it is about denying yourself something and making a bit of a sacrifice. I use the time for a bit of reflection about my attitude towards people. Giving up things isn't of much importance, really. I don't drink so I don't give that up, and giving up a bar of chocolate is nothing. It's more about inward reflection.
Danny Kinahan (55), is the Ulster Unionist MLA for South Antrim. He lives in Templepatrick with his wife Anna and their children, Eliza (20), Tara (19), Hugo (17) and Mia (15). He says:
"This year I'm thinking of giving up bread. I'm a great one for coming home and tucking into toast or a sandwich and with that goes the butter and the cheese. I don't normally do Lent but I thought I would try this year.
"I think about doing something for Lent every year and usually it only lasts about a day – if I say it in the paper now, though, then I might do it.
"Lent is meant to be a time of abstinence and reflection and we should all give something up. I try not to go for chocolate eggs until Easter itself so I do observe that. My children are the ones more likely to give something up, though."
David Simpson (55), is the DUP MP for Upper Bann. He is married to Elaine and they have three grown-up children, Kristy, Leah and Steven. He says:
"I never think of Lent an awful lot, it's not a topic of conversation. I've been told, though, that I have to give up Chinese food for Lent because my daughter says I have to fit into my suit for her wedding. That means no Bounty bars or crisps either. So Lent is being imposed on me this year, I've been told it's compulsory.
"Within the Anglican churches Lent is very important coming up to the Easter period and it reminds people of the sacrifices that were made for them."
Father Brian D'Arcy (69), is a priest and broadcaster based in Enniskillen. He says:
"Lent is a very important time for me and each year I run a Novena of Hope. Organising that is huge. I try to do things for others rather than giving up stuff.
"During Lent I also save as much money as I can and buy Easter eggs for deprived children. I think sometimes we're all very concerned about the necessities, but sometimes people should have a bit of foolishness in their lives too.
"I did used to give up pipe smoking during Lent and that's how I finished smoking on one occasion, I just didn't go back to it afterwards.
"These days Lent seems to happen three times a year, it comes back so quickly. I belong to the Passionist order and our duty is to preach the healing effects of the passion – forgiveness, love, new life and reconciliation.
"I do love Easter eggs but also love the real thing. My mother would have gathered up the eggs during Holy Week and boiled them in a big pot.
"We loved them with butter and salt, and you know Easter has arrived when you have a proper egg like that."
Karen McKevitt (42), is the SDLP MLA for South Down. She is married to Patrick and they live outside Newry with their children, Rachel (21), Niall (19), James (17), Kathryn (15), and Sarah-Rose (10). She says:
"Lent to me is about reflecting on the last year and what we could have done better. We had a lot of volunteering at my home last year, James volunteered at the World Police and Fire Games so this year we're all going to increase that locally with a community resource centre. The whole family will be involved with the youth group and fundraising.
"We've all gone off things in the past for Lent but I think reflection is more rewarding. The children will probably go off something but I'll get more out of it this way, giving something back to the community.
"We were brought up with Lent and it's part of our religion and I think I've tried to ease the path, but it's not easy. Sometimes you fail at it but I've always taught the children if that happens you just pick yourself up and carry on."
The Very Reverend John Mann, Dean of Belfast (58), lives in Belfast with his wife Helen and they have two grown-up children, Rowan and David. He says:
"I give up something every year – I always have. I generally give up the little luxuries like chocolate, cake and alcohol, not one particular thing.
"Lent for me is an opportunity to give a little extra thought to what one is doing in terms of one's devotional life particularly, but also in how one responds to other people.
"That could be something like giving time and money to something.
"It's also about how you respond to the need for reflection within yourself and acknowledging that need.
"Lent is an opportunity to do that. It's every bit about inward reflection as much as it is about sacrifice."
Tracey Hall (46) is the director of the Style Academy modelling agency. Tracey lives in Belfast with her fiance Stefan Rodgers. She says:
"I'm denying myself quite a lot at the moment because I'm getting married next month. So for Lent I would give up cakes and biscuits, sweet things in general.
At our church we're focusing on our actions towards other people instead of denying ourselves things. We're encouraged to do something positive every day, be it visit an elderly neighbour or have a daily prayer ritual. I think I might struggle this year more than ever to remember to do something every day as I'm consumed in wedding madness.
We've always had special services in church and it is a very important time of year for me. I just want to try to do something new, useful and helpful if I can."
Wendy Austin presents Radio's Ulster's Talkback, which is on every weekday. She lives with husband Frank near Dromore, Co Down and has three grown-up children, Niall (30), Kerry (29) and Clare (26). She says:
"I'm not very good at giving things up normally but it's well known that on Talkback we're a bit carb-tastic. There always seems to cakes and buns around, be they the delicious apple pancakes from the shop down the road or amazing carrot cakes baked by Jane who works with us. I think I'll give up cake for Lent this year – I need to put a bit of pressure on myself and I need to lose a few pounds.
"Lent isn't a big thing for me but after Christmas you need to have January off and by the time we get to Lent you realise you need to atone from Christmas. It's not a time of great significance for me but I can see why it is for many people."
A time of penitence
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and covers the period of around six weeks leading up to Easter Day
It is seen as a period when Christians commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence
In the early history of the church, only one meal was allowed per day, in the evening, and meat, fish, eggs, and butter were forbidden
Lent itself is an old English word meaning 'lengthen', as the period is observed in spring, when the days begin to get longer
For information about Lent and a collection of daily reflections, the Rev Mann's book, Lent With St John's Gospel, £.8.50is available from St Anne's Cathedral bookshop