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When Does Lent Start and End This Year? 2021 Holiday Dates

when does lent start?

The Lenten season will begin with Ash Wednesday on February 17th, 2021; and if you are following the 40 days tradition, Lent will end on Holy Saturday, April 3rd, 2021.

However, in the Catholic tradition the "General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar," was updated in 1969 to say: "Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord's Supper exclusive." The Mass of the Lord's Supper for Catholics is on Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, which is on April 1, 2021. For those adhering to that tradition, Lent will end on Thursday, April 1.

Use our 40 Day Lent Devotional Guide to lead you in prayer and scripture reading through the Lenten Season! Download your FREE copy HERE.

When Does Lent Start? Timeline of Start and End Dates

The beginning of Lent is marked by many with ashes hence the name Ash Wednesday, which is Wednesday, February 17th, 2001. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, and Ash Wednesday is always 46 days before Easter Sunday, which is Sunday, April 4 this year. The observance of Lent spans 40 days, ending on the Saturday before Easter. You may be wondering how Lent can be 40 days if Ash Wednesday is 46 days before Easter? That is because the Lenten fast does not include Sundays, which are considered feast days (a celebration of the resurrection)—so the six Sundays before Easter are omitted from the 40-day observance of fasting.

The last week of Lent is called Holy Week and includes Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday (technically not a fasting day), Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, Good Friday or Holy Friday, and Holy Saturday or Black Saturday. Unlike Advent, which is a time of celebration and excitement looking forward to an arrival, Lent is observed in a more solemn way preparing for and reflecting on Jesus’ sacrificial death. But at the end of Lent is Easter Sunday, and that is the most joyous celebration because our Savior Jesus Christ was resurrected and lives on. Because of his death and resurrection, we are offered new life to live as covenant children in the kingdom of God forever. 

Important Dates of Lent in 2021:

Important Dates of LentBrief Overview of Significance2021 Dates
Palm SundayCelebrates Jesus's triumphant entry into JerusalemMarch 28, 2021
Holy WeekThe week leading up to EasterMarch 28 - April 3, 2021
Maundy ThursdayCommemorates the foot washing and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the ApostlesApril 1, 2021
Good FridayCommemorates the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at CalvaryApril 2, 2021
Holy SaturdayCommemorates Jesus' body resting in the tombApril 3, 2021
Easter SundayCelebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and his victory over sin and death. April 4, 2021

When Does Lent End? 

Lent ends 46 days after it begins - on the Saturday before Easter Sunday. Easter is a floating holiday that is based on the spring full moon. The first Sunday after the full moon, or spring equinox, This year, the first full moon in spring will happen on March 28, which puts Easter on Sunday, April 4th. 46 days before April 4th would then give us the first day of Lent - Ash Wednesday - on February 17th!

What Does the Word ‘Lent’ Mean?

Lent is a shortened version of the Old English word ‘lencten’, which means spring or springtime the season. It is believed to have Germanic roots and seems likely to have been used to describe the season when the days began to lengthen, signifying new life and renewal. Over time, the word Lent came to be more specifically defined as the 40 day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter.

Who Celebrates Lent?

Both Catholics and Protestants celebrate Lent; Lent is more popular among Catholic believers, but the tradition is growing among evangelicals. According to a LifeWay Christian Research study:

  • “Three-quarters of Americans (76 percent) say they don’t typically observe Lent, according to a new survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research." 
  • "Catholics (61 percent) remain most likely to observe Lent, according to LifeWay’s survey. Protestants (20 percent) and those with evangelical beliefs (28 percent) are less likely."
  • "Forty-three percent of those who attend church at least once a month observe Lent. That includes 82 percent of Catholics who regularly attend service as well as 30 percent of Protestants.”

Eastern Orthodox Christians also celebrate Lent but on a slightly different schedule. The BBC states,

“Both the eastern and western churches observe Lent but they count the 40 days differently. The western church excludes Sundays (which is celebrated as the day of Christ's resurrection) whereas the eastern church includes them. The churches also start Lent on different days. Western churches start Lent on the 7th Wednesday before Easter Day (called Ash Wednesday). Eastern churches start Lent on the Monday of the 7th week before Easter and end it on the Friday 9 days before Easter. Eastern churches call this period the 'Great Lent'.”

What Do People Give Up During Lent?

Most people give up a favorite food product or beverage, and many Catholics still abstain from meat on Lenten Fridays. Others may give up something they enjoy or something that distracts them from reflection like video games, television, or even social media.

According to the LifeWay Christian Research study cited above,

“Fasting from a favorite food or beverage (57 percent) and going to church (57 percent) are the most common ways to observe Lent.  Additional prayer (39 percent), giving to others (38 percent) or fasting from a bad habit (35 percent) are also popular. Fasting from a favorite activity is less common (23 percent).

Fasting from a favorite food or beverage is more common out West (62 percent) than in the Northeast (42 percent). Young Americans, those 18 to 24, who observe Lent are more likely to choose this option (86 percent) than those over 65 (43 percent). Catholics (64 percent) are more likely give up a food or drink than Protestants (43 percent).”

Why Do People Give Something Up for Lent?

Most people give something up for Lent to symbolize Jesus’ sacrifice and his withdrawal into the desert to be tempted for 40 days. However, Christians should be careful not to think that their sacrifice of giving something up is in any way akin to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Giving something up for Lent does not lend you any merit toward your own salvation, justification, or sanctification. However, if you are giving something up as a way to reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice (not your own) and what Jesus has done for you and is continuing to do for you then that fasting would be well placed.

On the topic of fasting, Contributor Sarah Phillips wrote:

“Fasting is a practice that has really gone by the wayside in many Christian circles. Yet, if done correctly, it can be a powerful time of renewing your relationship with God. Fasting can be found in both the Old Testament and the New, with Moses (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9,18 ), Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), and our Lord (Matthew 4:2) all participating in 40-day fasts. Fasting is a way of denying ourselves the excesses of life so that we might be more attuned to the Lord's voice. It is also a way of disciplining yourself, strengthening your "spiritual muscles" so to speak, so that when temptations arise in life, you are already used to saying "no" to your desires. And finally, fasting is also a way of participating, in a small way, in the sufferings of Christ and can be particularly powerful when accompanied by prayer and confession.

A word of caution: although fasting can be a wonderful spiritual exercise, it is also an easy one to abuse. Make sure that when you fast, you do not deprive yourself so much that you do harm to your body. Fasting should only be practiced by adults and mature teens. Also, take into account any medical conditions or nutritional needs when deciding what and how much to abstain from (I recommend consulting with a doctor and/or spiritual advisor before undertaking a serious fast). On the spiritual front, Jesus warns us to guard against pride while fasting (Matthew 6:1-6, Matthew 6:16-18).”

Do You Have to Give Something Up for Lent?

There is nothing in Scripture that requires a 40-day fast before you can celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday. The Bible is clear that the resurrection and the promise of salvation are to be celebrated every day not just on Easter Sunday. Celebrating Lent is a preference not a biblical principle; therefore, use your best judgment based on Scripture for how you want to prepare your heart for the celebration of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If giving something up for Lent causes you to focus too much on your own sacrifice vs. Christ's then don’t observe Lent in the traditional way. Instead, start a special devotional in your prayer time if that’s more helpful or read through the gospels each week and so on. It’s more important to have solid daily habits that involve time with the Lord and prayers of thanks than it is to complete a 40-day fast successfully.

Denise K. Loock shares,

“When Paul told the Romans to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, I think he had in mind the daily-ness of sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2). My commitment to Jesus should involve the following:

  • Daily contemplation of the price Jesus paid for my sins and my inability to meet God’s standard of righteousness
  • Daily commitment to rely more on the Holy Spirit and less on myself
  • Daily reflection on the endless supply of God’s mercy and grace
  • Daily gratitude for the ways he allows me to be his hands and feet in a hurting world

Motivation is everything. David said the one thing he desired was spending time in God’s presence (Psalm 27:4). He also spoke of daily fulfilling his vows to the Lord (Psalm 61:8). Another psalmist wrote that he thirsted for God like a deer thirsts for water (Psalm 42:1-2). Again, there’s the daily-ness factor. After all, how many times a day does a deer seek water?”

-Excerpted from Should I Give Something Up for Lent?, shared with permission from

Should You Observe Lent?

Lent can be helpful for individuals but also for families. In the same way that Advent helps parents guide their children toward Christmas, Lent can provide a path of preparation for families to partake in together. Rather than focus on the excitement of the baskets and egg hunts, Lent can help keep your family focused on the real meaning of Easter and what Jesus’ sacrifice means for our salvation. So that on that joyous Easter Sunday, the celebration is all the more sweet and meaningful. writer Jennifer Kostic writes,

“I don’t know about you, but I often need refocusing. I have to purge distractions and force awareness of what is important. Life gets crazy. All of us have family responsibilities, work duties, and everyday life tasks that make the cross more distant than it should be. Putting the cross back into our line of vision grounds us in His love. It’s not that those of us who serve Christ allow a gap between us and the cross on purpose, but life and all its obligations sometimes add a haze to what happened on Calvary.  We become so wrapped up in the right now, that we need to be reminded of what made us whole and able to breathe the air of freedom in the first place. ... For me, the point isn’t really about what exactly I give up or what I choose to do differently. It’s about forcing myself to make new habits that remind me of the true gospel story which brings forth the revelation of Christ in my life.”

-Excerpted from Why I Was Wrong about Lent

5 Reasons Not to Observe Lent:

  • To slim your waistline
  • To make God happy
  • To cure an addiction
  • To showcase your spirituality or virtue
  • Because it’s the cool trend

Read Aaron Damiani’s reasons in full here.

We should always make sure we’re fasting for the right reasons and motives. Lent is not about our sacrifice after all; it is about focusing on the one sacrifice we would never have been able to make. Yet, all the same, it was made for us by God the Son, who is Jesus the Messiah. As undeserving sinners, Jesus offers us a clean record, which he paid for with his life. We can only accept this offer through faith, which has also been gifted to us. Faith is made possible by the free gift of grace, imparted to us by the Holy Spirit.

Bible Verses for Lent

  • Philippians 3:10-11- "I want to know Christ, yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participate in his sufferings, becoming like him in death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
  • Joel 2:12-14- "Even now," declares the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate.
  • Matthew 6:16-18- "when you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites...but when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

Read more Scriptures for Lent at

A Prayer for Lent

Jesus, the journey you took to the cross was full of betrayal, grief, torture, and darkness, yet your love for us, your people, propelled you onward. Help us to comprehend just how powerful that love is, that you would suffer such a cruel death to make a way for us to be with you in glory forever. What a gift, Jesus. What a gift. May our praise never cease in this season. May our worship be unending. May our love for you find new depths. May this season bring new hope and new healing. May we journey toward the cross prayerfully and purposefully, even through the pain, our doubt, our questions, and our searching. May we find resurrection life springing up from this old dusty ground, and may we be surprised by joy in all of it. May Easter be a day of complete celebration as we rejoice in our risen Savior and praise our gracious Father. In you, we find the truest joy, Jesus. Thank you, thank you, thank you. We praise you in all of it. Hallelujah and amen.

-Excerpted from Rachel Dawson's Prayer for Lent.

5 Lent Prayers for the Lenten Season

You may also enjoy:
7 Types of Fasts You Need to Know About
When Is Easter Sunday?
A Timeline of Holy Week

What is Lent? Its Meaning and Traditions

Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/Azerberber

This article is part of our larger Holy Week and Easter resource library centered around the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!

What is the Holy Week?
What Is Palm Sunday?
What is Maundy Thursday?
What Is Good Friday?

What Is Easter?
Easter Prayers

At Easter, the Son of God took on the world’s sin and defeated the devil, death, and grave. How is it, then, that history’s most glorious moment is surrounded by fearful fishermen, despised tax collectors, marginalized women, feeble politicians, and traitorous friends?

In The Characters of Easter, you’ll become acquainted with the unlikely collection of ordinary people who witnessed the miracle of Christ’s death and resurrection. This FREE podcast provides a fresh approach to the Lenten season and can be used as a devotional or study for both individuals and groups.

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