(CNN) — Lent is a season of prayer and penance in the Christian church and a period of preparation for the Easter season.
It is celebrated from February 17 to April 3, 2021.
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent in Western churches.
LOOK: Lent, in data
The word Lent comes from the Old English word lencten, which means spring.
In the western church, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, six and a half weeks before Easter, and ends on Holy Saturday.
In the eastern church, Lent begins on the Monday of the seventh week before Easter and ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday.
Fasting and prayer are done in remembrance and reflection of the fast of Jesus Christ in the desert.
Lent lasts 40 days. Sundays are not counted.
The observance of Lent dates back to the 4th century.
Between the 5th-9th centuries, strict fasting during Lent was common. Meat and fish were prohibited, but one meal a day is allowed.
The fast continues but is now less strict in Western churches.
Many people give up something during Lent, such as television or other enjoyable activities.
Participating in acts of charity is another custom during Lent.