Politics, Trends, Tradition: How Christians (Really) Decide What To Give Up for Lent

A middle-aged woman praying in a church with others praying behind her.

Millions of Americans will forego the traditional dark chocolate, red wine, and fancy steak dinner this Valentine’s Day in favor of forty days of fasting, self-discipline, and prayer.

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, coincides with Valentine’s Day on February 14 this year for the first time since 2018.

Originally a period of spiritual preparation leading up to Easter, Lent has since grown beyond its Christian roots to find greater popularity with the self-improvement crowd.

While most Christians would say they choose what to give up for Lent primarily to grow their faith, recent data confirms that politics, current events, trends, and tradition often play a significant role.

How Politics and Current Events Shape America’s Lenten Sacrifices

Over the last fifteen years, Stephen Smith, a writer and editor at OpenBible.info, has systematically calculated and analyzed over five million tweets to determine the most popular items people give up for Lent each year. 

This data is published yearly as a “Top 100 Things Given Up” list on the OpenBible.info blog. 

While many answers featured in the list showcase the wit and sarcasm X (formerly Twitter) is known for, there’s often a strong correlation between what people say they’re giving up for Lent and the current events that happened that year.

For example, in 2023, the terms “tomatoes” and “vegetables” surged in popularity after several large U.K.-based grocery stores temporarily restricted their sale due to shortages. Meanwhile, TikTok continued up the charts amid negative press in the United States and outright bans in the European Union.

Biden, Putin, Ukraine, Russia, Russian oil, and war each made one-time appearances on the list in 2022, while Donald Trump made the list every year from 2017 to 2021.

On a lighter note, ice cream jumped 35 places up the list in 2022 after Biden, a confirmed Catholic, told a reporter he was giving up the sweet treat for Lent.

Maintaining Tradition: Popular Lenten Sacrifices Rarely Change

While current events can lead to unexpected volatility in the charts, tradition and habit help ensure that most of OpenBible.info’s Lent lists remain relatively similar year over year.

Food, for example, has topped the category charts every year since 2012. This category includes popular Lenten sacrifices such as meat, chocolate, fast food, sugar, bread, and chips.

This ranking makes sense given that Roman Catholic Christians are required to follow strict Lent fasting rules each year. Many practicing Catholics give up meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays during Lent, though there are many exceptions to this requirement.

Technology has placed second on the category charts every year over the same time frame, except in 2015, when it temporarily dropped one place to third.

This is the category Meredith Dickson, a Catholic mom of six, is choosing this year. “I’m going to utilize the screen time limits on my phone for Lent, so I only give myself so many hours per day on certain apps. Instead, I’ll focus on my family, my health, & my faith.”

Other popular categories include smoking/drugs/alcohol, habits, school/work, and relationships.

How To Decide What To Give Up for Lent

Not interested in basing your Lenten resolutions on current events or centuries-old traditions?

Whether your goal is to strengthen your faith, improve your self-discipline, or finally break free from a nagging bad habit, Lent offers the perfect opportunity for spiritual growth and self-improvement.

Most Christians recommend giving up a small bad habit to have more time and energy to focus on spiritual growth.

Some Christians intentionally choose something that will feel like a sacrifice to better reflect on Christ’s sacrifice over two thousand years ago. Others focus on adding new good habits, such as praying daily Lenten prayers, reading the Bible, or doing random acts of kindness for others.

Jessie Luckey, a Catholic mom of three, shares, “We give up unnecessary spending as a family and take up donations to a different charity each week. Personally, I’m taking on a daily fifteen-minute prayer time.”

Ashley Miller, another Catholic mom of three, has seen success focusing on giving up something that has taken her focus off God.

“Last year, I gave up social media for Lent and also added doing a daily rosary. It really helped me to focus on Christ and spend intentional time praying. I highly recommend it!”

This article was produced by Media Decision and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.