Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the first day of Lent, a period of reflection, restraint, simplicity and fasting for Catholics and some Protestants in preparation for Easter.
For Orthodox denominations, the Lenten season of about 40 days starts on Monday, Feb. 27.
Catholics of a certain age will remember when all Fridays were meatless. Fish cakes, fried sole or flounder, and pasta were among the popular choices. Sometimes, pizza made an appearance.
Now, Catholics 18 to 59 are expected to fast on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during Lent. That means about one meal, or basically not filling up. Catholics 14 years old and older are obliged not to eat meat on Ash Wednesday.
Lent stems from the fasting of Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days and nights, resisting the temptations of evil in a time of need.
This abstinence doesn't include eggs or dairy products. It's also permissible to use condiments and liquids that may be flavored with meat, such as consomme and gravy. But these days are considered a period of penance, to turn from sin.
It also manifests itself in action, not just to "give up" something you desire, but to offer service or assistance of some kind to the poor and the needy.
Earlier today, Cardinal Timothy Dolan helped distribute food at the bread line of St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan. Cardinal Dolan compared Lent with spring training. He underscored the importance of giving.
The clearest way to keep with a Lenten diet is, of course, to be vegetarian. Orthodox Christians often refrain from meat, fish and dairy for the entire Lenten season.
A young parishioner receiving ashes last year.