What are Christians giving up for Lent — or at least those on Twitter?
A fresh analysis shows that Chipotle is up, McDonald’s is down. Forgoing Juuling is up, quitting smoking is down. And hot Cheetos are hot items to sacrifice, while Doritos — not so much.
Social networking and alcohol, however, are always near the top of the list of Lent sacrifices, according to a 10-year analysis of Twitter by the website OpenBible.info.
“It’s a little ironic that people on social media say they are giving up social media by using social media,” said Stephen Smith, a Christian technology manager based in South Carolina who has tracked the tweets since 2009.
Last week marked the beginning of Lent, the six weeks leading up to Easter during which many Christians give up a vice or something they really like. Smith has used Twitter to analyze tens of thousands of annual Lent-related tweets, including 42,000 so far this year.
Several popular categories top the charts consistently, including chocolate, meat, sweets, fast food and social media — often Twitter in particular, ironically.
So far this year, sex and soda are also in the top 10.
Within the fast food category, Chick-fil-A has outpaced McDonald’s over the years. Among snack foods, hot Cheetos have taken off while popcorn has barely fizzled.
Certain niche items emerge each year. Plastic, for example, soared from nowhere to more than 6 percent last year and is going strong this year.
The tweets are often weird or surprising, said Smith. Last year, for example, “Tide pods” earned a spot on the top 100 list, referring to a short-lived youth fad of biting into the toxic laundry detergent packets.
“Tide pods is definitely one of the stranger ones,” said Smith. “Hot Cheetos — I have no explanation for. A lot of weird ones are topical, like giving up Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers — when they were still popular.”
There are plenty of snarky tweets as well. Last year, 373 people said they were giving up “Lent” and 130 said they were giving up “religion.” More than 100 said they were giving up “giving up things.” And 189 said they were giving up “you.”
Snarky comments aside, Christians in the real world seem to be loosely following the broad Twitter trends, at least according to interviews with students attending services at the University of St. Thomas campus last week for Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.
Giving up Twitter leaders such as favorite foods and social media was nothing new to them. They’d tried it. Now they’re going for broke.
“I’m giving up all screen time — movies, TV, social media,” said Joe Nelson of Minneapolis. “It’s a cool way to get rid of distractions and create time for meaningful things like reading or prayer.”
Alexandra Liebel said she was giving up social media — and apparently her ego.
“There’s no talking about myself unless some asks,” said the St. Paul law student.
“I’m giving up complaining,” added Jacqueline Cavello of Minneapolis. “When people ask how’s my Lent going, I say, ‘I can’t complain.’ ”
As for the guy monitoring the Twitter feeds, what’s his Lenten plan?
“I wasn’t planning to give anything up,” Smith said. “Oh, the irony.”