Ruby Cline with permission for Varsity

Michaelmas brings the sparkly and the new, and Easter is swamped with exam preparation. But what exactly does Lent hold? It can feel like very little. As Michaelmas’ exhilaration fades, Lent is when the fatigue sits in. Very few people begin Lent refreshed and ready. After all, Christmas and New Years’, when lots of us can hardly distinguish between being drunk or hungover, are barely behind us. Waking up on the first day of term already yawning isn’t a good sign, and feels particularly brutal on a January morning. Colder and darker than what comes after, yet emptier than the overwhelming term before, Lent is unpopular. However, I think that Lent is also a sorely underestimated term. Precisely what makes Lent difficult also gives it potential: the opportunity to make changes in your habits and lifestyle and set yourself up for a great rest of the year.

Lent offers you the opportunity to set up habits which will help you when you’re not at your best. You still have an echo of the motivation of the beginning of Michaelmas, without being put through the paces of freshers’ week which will likely have thrown you off your schedule for the rest of term. The stress of the incoming Easter term is in the distance, motivating you to face the facts and realise that going to bed at 3am every night simply isn’t sustainable. The final push comes from the beginning of a new year, which lets you feel like you’re starting something exciting and new even when you’re going back to the same old flat. Lent is the only term where I’ve been able to go in with intentions about changing my habits – reading more, changing my friendships, getting up earlier – and actually consistently kept to those changes.

Additionally, Lent is the least time-pressured term for most people. Termcards shrink a little in comparison to Michaelmas now that freshers don’t need to be persuaded by the potential for dinners and drinks to join Kickboxing-Amateur-Dramatic-Wine-Tasting-Matchmaking-Bleeding-Hearts Society (CUKADWTMBHS for short, of course).

“Lent is a fantastic term for real, actual, self-paced learning”

Besides, even the events that are running seem far less appealing when it’s dark and rainy at 5pm. Exams are still a long way off for most. And since Michaelmas has usually outlined whatever horrific essay deadlines are expected for this academic year, you’re less likely to end up with unpleasant surprises in your schedule. Used to filling every moment with revision, some students point to this spare time and fret, believing that it’s only a hectic calendar between them and existential despair. Cambridge is not known for its chilled-out atmosphere, after all. But Lent’s more relaxed structure means that stress doesn’t have to be your constant primary emotion. Perhaps you can even – and I don’t mean to be too bold here – enjoy your degree a little, remembering why you’re spending thousands of pounds and three years (at least) of your life to obtain it. Lent is a fantastic term for real, actual, self-paced learning.

Speaking of learning, one of the most widely discussed features of Lent is the reality checks that come throughout it. Speak to any third year and they will, in all likelihood, have some horrific story about a flatmate they discovered ate raw chicken out of the packet or a screaming match they had with their freshers’ week best friend. Without the glitter and glamour of Michaelmas, reality can set in – with yourself and with the people around you. Perhaps you realise with some time away from Cambridge that actually, going out four times a week makes you miserable. Coming back to your loved ones at home may not have been the romantic reunion you expected (I can name at least six people, myself included, who broke up with their long-distance lovers during freshers’ winter holidays). Maybe your flatmates aren’t so splendid. Maybe your supervisor isn’t a superhero. Lent is when the chill feels chilly and the bad feels worse. This is tough, I’ll admit it.

“Without the glitter and glamour of Michaelmas, reality can set in – with yourself and with the people around you”

If it helps, the Lent term blues are not unique to Cambridge. Students from universities all across the country return home at Easter touting the same message: “You’ll never believe what happened this term”. It may not be enjoyable to get through at the time, but these reality checks are vital for the rest of your time at university. Those same third years who told you about their flatmate’s unfortunate chicken habits likely don’t regret a thing, because wiping away the false glitter of life at university lets you find the real joy underneath. And I promise you, they are so relieved they aren’t living with raw-chicken-girl again next year. Lent gives you clarity, which is vital before choices for the future need to be made with room ballots and May ball tickets around the corner.


Mountain View

Cambridge colleges have a clique problem

With all this in mind, I hope you find the good in the bad and the light in the dark. Lent is tough but you are tougher. Use this term for good. Personally, I’ll be using all this spare time – when not reflecting on the miserable realities of the world – to finish The Crown. Maybe you can use it for something a bit more valuable.