Sitting in the living room of her Hilton Head Island home on the eve of Ash Wednesday, 9-year-old Sydney Owen asked her grandmother, Carol Smith, and her mother, Tania Owen, about Lent.
She wanted to know what the Easter season is all about, and whether they were planning to give up something.
Smith, who along with Owen and Sydney is a member of St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church on Hilton Head, told her granddaughter that she planned to give up potato chips, ice cream and candy. Owen shared that she was going to eliminate unhealthy snacks at work.
Sydney began to consider what a good sacrifice for her would be. Her grandmother explained that she could also focus on doing something extra.
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"It doesn't have to be something that you eat," Smith told her. "It could be that you want to be nicer to people, or more polite."
"Also, you could give up something you do that you shouldn't do," her mother added. "You could stop saying no to me when I tell you to do something."
Sydney thought about it and decided it sounded like a pretty good idea. And so, her Lenten sacrifice was set.
A little while later, Owen asked Sydney to do something, and Sydney dismissed the request.
What had they just talked about, Owen asked her daughter.
To which Sydney replied, "But Lent doesn't start until tomorrow."
A SEASON OF PREPARATION
Lent is the Christian season leading up to Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday, which was March 5, and lasts just over six weeks.
It is a season of preparation to Christ's resurrection through fasting, prayer, repentance and spiritual discipline. Lent is observed by the Roman Catholic church as well as other Christian denominations such as Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian.
Traditionally, people will give up something they enjoy or sacrifice their time and energy by taking on extra good deeds.
Alex Nunez, a sixth-grader at St. Gregory the Great Catholic School, has given up onions for Lent. Yes, onions.
"I've been dreaming about onions ever since," Nunez said.
At dinner, he has to pick the onions out of the salad his mother prepares, reminding him of his sacrifice.
"I love onions," he said, emphasis on the "love." "I eat the onion like it's an apple."
"He does," a classmate confirmed. "It's disgusting."
At St. Gregory the Great, principal Christopher Trott said students are encouraged to go beyond giving up something.
"What is often forgotten is you're supposed to also do good for your school, community and family," Trott said.
With that in mind, the school is holding a canned food drive, with the goal of collecting 900 canned goods for the Franciscan Center to give away to needy families.
"The message is that even though this is a time of sacrifice, this is also a time to prepare ourselves for rejuvenation," Trott said.
Leanne Bernardez, the religion teacher at John Paul II Catholic School in Ridgeland, has been helping students come up with unique ways to reflect and prepare for the Easter season.
One idea was to put a popcorn kernel in your shoe as a reminder of discomfort and the sufferings Christ went through when he was crucified. Bernardez said another student decided he would jump out of bed and kiss the floor every morning as an act of humility.
"We're finding ways to allow room for God in our lives," Bernardez said.
Bernardez herself has become a vegetarian, a lifestyle she plans to continue even after the Lenten season.
However, when a friend cooked her a birthday dinner that included a meat dish, she had to turn to her favorite saint, St. Francis, for guidance.
"He says it's better to be a gracious guest than to keep up your fast," Bernardez said. "So I did have meat because it was better for me to make that sacrifice and give up my fast in order to be a good guest."
SPIRIT OF THE SEASON
Smith said her granddaughter, Sydney, has stuck with her Lenten promise so far, and hasn't said no to her mother once.
But Smith herself has slipped up. Eating at a Wendy's restaurant, she had a Frosty for dessert. It wasn't until after she'd finished the creamy shake that she realized it had ice cream in it, which she'd given up for Lent.
"Then I felt terrible, but that was the only time I've slipped up," Smith said.
Nonetheless, the spirit of sacrifice, and of the season, stays alive.
"God gives us so much and we are so blessed with what we have," Smith said. "Even though our sacrifice is so small, we're acknowledging the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for us."
Follow reporter Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.
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