Still haven’t decided what to give up for Lent this year? Let’s check the Twitter Lent Tracker — there really is such a thing — and see what everyone else is abstaining from until Easter.
At the top of the early list: Social networking, presumably after all the “I’m giving up social media” tweets and Facebook announcements have been posted.
Next on the list of popular things people are giving up: chocolate, that perennial favorite, followed closely by the other usual Lenten suspects of soda, sweets and swearing.
This year everyone from the pope to PETA and PopSugar has offered advice on how to spend this period of fasting and praying in preparation for Easter. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.
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“This ancient day and season has a surprising modern appeal,” Christopher Hale, executive director at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, wrote for Time.
“Priests and pastors often tell you that outside of Christmas, more people show up to church on Ash Wednesday than any other day of the year — including Easter. But this mystique isn’t reserved for Christians alone. The customs that surround the season have a quality to them that transcend religion.”
In fact, if Twitter traffic over the last few years is any indication, the act of giving up something enjoyable during Lent — or as The New York Daily News calls it, “40 days and 40 nights of sadness” — has become an increasingly popular observance for the devout and casually religious alike.
The Twitter Lent Tracker monitors people’s tweets about the season. It’s kept by Stephen Smith at OpenBible.info. The Washington Post called Smith a “Bible coder” because he uses data to help people understand the Bible. He’s been analyzing Lenten tweets since 2009.
Last year’s top five abstentions were school, chocolate, Twitter, alcohol, and social networking. He’ll release his final list for 2016 on Feb. 13.
So far this year “cruelty is No. 6, reflecting a campaign by PETA UK asking Christians to go vegan for Lent,” Smith writes.
“With the New Hampshire primaries on Tuesday and several U.S. presidential candidates likely to withdraw from the race, I’m expecting jokes about how the candidates are giving up their presidential aspirations for Lent.”
People sometimes get very specific, giving up things like McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, even One Direction and Justin Bieber. Hot Cheetos cracked the Top 100 list last year.
Also new on the list last year: emojis.
What a lot of people apparently don’t give up for Lent: sarcasm.
PETA’s Lenten advice might seem a bit self-serving.
But some people find Twitter a great outlet for sharing serious thoughts about a time of year designed for reflection and introspection.
Twitter user @RealBenMizen, for instance, plans to take “forty portraits of people that I meet in my day-to-day goings on throughout Lent.”
This year, Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to rethink their Lenten activities and abstain from something more harmful than overindulgence — indifference to one another.
“Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians,” he said in his annual Lenten message.
“Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.”