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This marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period of prayer and fasting preceding Easter Sunday. It is observed in memory of Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the desert. In the early centuries of Christianity, there were strict requirements for fasting during the period of preparation for Easter. Although these rules have been relaxed in the Western church, many Roman Catholics and Protestants choose to give up a favorite food or activity during Lent.