Lenten Observance

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Christian calendar, the forty-day period of fasting and penance ending on Easter Eve (which falls on 7 April this year), and replicating Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert prior to His crucifixion.

According to an ICM Research survey for the Church of England, conducted online among a sample of 2,024 Britons aged 18 and over on 10-12 February 2012, more than one-fifth of adults plan to observe Lent in some way this year, albeit one-third of them did not know at the time of interview precisely what they would be giving up or taking up.

Women were more likely to claim that they intended to observe Lent than men (27% versus 20%), with age-based anticipated observance peaking, perhaps surprisingly, among the 18-24s (30%). Does the latter finding suggest that Lent is making a comeback?

Of those planning to observe Lent in 2012, 32% were unsure how they would actually do so. The proportions of the remaining 68% electing for specific observances were as follows:

  • Try to do more positive/kindly acts (21%)
  • Give up chocolate or other treats (17%)
  • Stop shopping for non-essential items (17%)
  • Give money to charity (10%)
  • Take up doing something spiritual like praying or reading the Bible (9%)
  • Stop swearing (9%)
  • Give up alcohol (8%)
  • Cut back on social media/gaming (7%)
  • Volunteer for a charity (7%)
  • Stop smoking (6%)
  • Something else (4%)

Lenten preferences were strongly related to gender. For instance, women were found to be nearly twice as likely as men to want to engage in positive or kindly acts as a Lent discipline. Men were twice as likely to aim to give up alcohol, whereas women were nearly three times more likely to forego chocolate.

Similarly, men were almost twice as likely to plan to spend less time on social media and gaming, and women were nearly one-and-a-half times as likely to stop shopping for non-essential items as a form of penance.

Of course, all these figures reflect aspirations before the event, which may not necessarily translate into reality at all or become quickly broken promises (a bit like New Year Resolutions).

From this perspective, it would be good to have a more retrospective enquiry, asking how people had observed Lent after it had finished. This would doubtless still involve some degree of exaggeration, but perhaps on a lesser scale.

The Church of England press release about the survey, dated 21 February 2012 and timed to coincide with the launch of Church House Publishing’s Reflections for Lent iPhone app, will be found at:


Analysis of a comparable YouGov poll from a year ago (which revealed that 27% then planned to observe Lent), together with a summary of previous Lenten survey research, is available at:



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