Millennials Observe Lenten Fast at Surprising Rates

Lent chocolate

Millennials observe the Lenten fast at surprising rates. They practice the Christian tradition more commonly than even their parents.

Fasting (giving up certain kind of foods) is an age-old tradition in Christian history that is practiced most often during the season of Lent to help Christians, predominantly Catholics, prepare for Easter and focus on their own spiritual paths. Even though it may seem that millennials are turning to more secular and modern practices, they are actually engaging in the Lenten practice more than would be believed.

In a time when age-long traditions and cultures seem to be increasingly ditched for a more modern lifestyle, today’s young Christians are surprisingly holding on to the Lenten fast. The Barna Group, a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization that conducts primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors, released a study that found while 72% of adult Christians are aware of the Christian tradition of fasting during Lent, only 17% have practiced it in the last 3 years – and the same 17% plan to do so this year as well.

Unsurprisingly, Catholics are the predominant observers of fasting during Lent, as 65% of Catholic faithful were said to have celebrated the Lenten fast in the past 3 years. Fasting during Lent also seems to be picking up interest in the Protestant community, as about 15% of Protestants were said to have participated in the last 3 years, and roughly 16% say they plan to do so this year.

While the younger adult generation of Americans, known as millennials, is stereotyped to do away with such traditions in favor of more secular practices, they are actually more likely to fast for the Lent than even their parents. The Barna Group study found that millennials the numbers at 20%, compared to 17% among all adults.

Andy Garber, a 27-year old evangelical Protestant who is observing Lent this year for the first time by giving up candy – a favorite of his. “I was always told, ‘That’s a Catholic thing,'” but a growing number of Protestant friends observing the ritual each year pushed him to give it a try, Andy said.

The trend also turns out to be true in Portland area, as in recent years, Scholars at Multnomah have spotted a surge in the number of Protestant millennials interested in rites and ceremonies used for worship. “They want to go deep because they often feel like life is shallow,” said Paul Metzger, a professor of theology and culture. “Tradition is a way they can connect to something beyond themselves,” he added. Martin Connell, a theology professor at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University, has also found that interest in Lent is fairly stable among Catholic millennials.


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