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A purple cloth draped over a cross outside St. John's Cathedral in Lafayette marked Lent in 2020. This year, Lent starts Feb. 17 and runs until Easter, April 4.

While February is known for Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras, several important religious days also fill the calendar.

Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, which this year falls on Feb. 17, and ends on Holy Saturday, April 3. Easter is April 4. The Lenten season is marked by fasting as well as other spiritual disciplines as renewal in preparation for Easter.

People often pray, sacrifice a personal pleasure or give their time to charity. Lent is 40 days long, to imitate Jesus fasting in the wilderness. However, Sundays are not counted toward that 40 days. The time of sacrifice starts immediately after the celebration of Carnival season.

The Eastern or Orthodox Church also has a Lenten season. Its dates and practice are different.

On Feb. 21 this year, Eastern Orthodox churches start a period called Triodion, the four preparation Sundays for Lent. Triodion is named for the liturgical book used during Lent.

In Eastern churches, the fasting starts in stages. On the first Sunday, no fasting is allowed. It is a feast week, a celebration. Starting the second Sunday, Wednesday and Friday fasts observed throughout the year return. The third Sunday is Meatfare Sunday, on March 7 this year. No flesh from a vertebrate is to be eaten after this Sunday. It is a "farewell to meat" until Easter. People include shellfish in this fast. Normal fasting continues on Wednesday and Friday. And the fourth Sunday is Cheesefare Sunday, on March 14 this year. No products from a vertebrate are to be eaten after this date. This includes things such as milk, eggs, butter and cheese.

The Great Lent, a time of fasting, starts the next day, running the 40 days until the Orthodox celebration of Easter, May 2.

Other religious highlights

Nirvana Day

Depending on the tradition of the Buddhist adherent, either Feb. 8 or Feb. 15 is Parinirvana Day, also called Nirvana Day. Observed primarily by Mahayana Buddhists, it marks the death of Buddha, the day he is said to have reached nirvana.

Nirvana is considered achieved when one gets rid of every suffering and need. It comes from a Sanskrit word meaning "to extinguish."

Purim

Feb. 26 is Purim. This holiday is rooted in the biblical book Esther, which tells the story of a beautiful young woman, one of the Jews in Persia, who becomes queen of Persia. Risking death, Esther eventually approaches the king to request he spare her people who are being targeted in a plot.

Jews celebrate the rescue as Purim, a light-hearted, joyous Jewish holiday. Also known as the Feast of Lots, it is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month Adar which falls in February or March.

Jews observe Purim by reading the book of Esther in the synagogue, using noisemakers to cover the name of the man behind the plot each time it is read, parading in costume dressed as the main characters, holding carnivals, exchanging Purim delicacies with neighbors and giving charity to the poor.

Four Chaplains Day

And while Four Chaplains Day is observed Feb. 3, many also observe it on the closest Sunday, so Feb. 7 this year. This day marks the memory of four men who sacrificed their lives on a sinking U.S. Army transport ship so that other soldiers could live.

In 1942, a U.S. ship, the Dorchester, was torpedoed by a submarine.

On board, four chaplains helped the soldiers in any way they could. They were Lt. George L. Fox, a Methodist minister; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, a Jewish rabbi; Lt. John P. Washington, a Roman Catholic priest; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, a Dutch Reformed pastor. The four clergymen had trained together and became friends at Chaplains School at Harvard University. They were reunited on board the Dorchester.

Survivors said the chaplains gave away their gloves and life jackets. They tended the wounded and helped calm the frightened men with messages of courage. They helped many people to lifeboats. Men on lifeboats said they saw the four chaplains link arms and heard them praying as the ship sank.

SOURCES: interfaith-calendar.org, militarybenefits.info/four-chaplains-day, fourchaplains.org, Webster's New World Dictionary, HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, World Book, The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, www.goarch.org/chapel/paschalion, bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/holydays/parinirvana.shtml, britannica.com, worldreligionnews.com/religion-news/why-buddhists-celebrate-nirvana-day, oca.org

Facets of Faith runs every other Saturday in Living. Reach Leila Pitchford at lpitchford@theadvocate.com.