Here's an interesting little article that came across the Episcopal News Service earlier. I think its a good description of Lent.
[ENS] Today, February 9, 2005, is Ash Wednesday, the first of the forty days ofLent, named for the custom of placing blessed ashes on the foreheads ofworshipers at Ash Wednesday services. Ash Wednesday is observed as a fast in thechurch year of the Episcopal Church. The Ash Wednesday service is one of theProper Liturgies for Special Days in the BCP (p. 264). Ashes are blessed for useon Ash Wednesday as a sign of penitence and a reminder of mortality. The OTfrequently mentions the use of ashes as an expression of humiliation and sorrow.Ashes for use on Ash Wednesday are made from burned palms from previous PalmSunday services. Ashes are imposed on the penitent's forehead with the words,"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (BCP, p. 265).Imposition of ashes at the Ash Wednesday service is optional.The season now known as Lent (from an Old English word meaning "spring," thetime of lengthening days) has a long history. Early Christians observed "aseason of penitence and fasting" in preparation for the Paschal feast, or Pascha(BCP, pp. 264-265). Originally, in places where Pascha was celebrated on aSunday, the Paschal feast followed a fast of up to two days. In the thirdcentury this fast was lengthened to six days. Eventually this fast becameattached to, or overlapped, another fast of forty days, in imitation of Christ'sfasting in the wilderness. The forty-day fast was especially important forconverts to the faith who were preparing for baptism, and for those guilty ofnotorious sins who were being restored to the Christian assembly. In the westernchurch the forty days of Lent extend from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday,omitting Sundays. The last three days of Lent are the sacred Triduum of MaundyThursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Today Lent has rea!cquired its significance as the final preparation of adult candidates forbaptism. Joining with them, all Christians are invited "to the observance of aholy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, andself-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word" (BCP, p. 265).Many Anglican parishes use Lenten array instead of violet or purple forvestments and liturgical hangings during Lent. Lenten array usually refers to arough or homespun fabric. It may have an off-white color or it may be madewithout any dye. Lenten array may be decorated with purple or dark orpheys andLenten designs. Use of Lenten array follows the custom from the late middle ages of using dark or drab colors during penitential seasons.