Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent for the Christian Church. One of the most popular holy days in the liturgical calendar, the holiday takes place 46 days before Easter Sunday.
And why ash, to begin with? The ash symbolizes the dust from which we were made. When a priest places the ash on a person’s forehead, he says the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
As with most holidays in the 21st century, Ash Wednesday brings with it a slew of memes that you can celebrate the day with below.
Lent, the six weeks leading up to Easter, is a time of reflection and patience in the Christian tradition. 40 Acts writes, “From its start on Ash Wednesday until its conclusion on Easter Sunday, Lent has been a traditional time for fasting or giving something up or abstinence. Just as we carefully prepare for events in our personal lives, as a wedding, or birthday; a commencement Lent invites us to make our minds and hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ life, death and body resurrection.”
Lent is observed in a number of ways, from fasting to abstaining from eating meat, fish, eggs, and fats up until Easter Sunday. Lent is also a time many Christians study their Bibles more intensely.
Interestingly enough, Ash Wednesday has a non-Christian origin; it wasn’t until 325 AD that the holiday was accepted into the beliefs of the Catholic Church. Back then, Constantine’s goal was to “combine pagans and Christians into a peaceable unit within the Roman kingdom,” reports Bible Info.
In 601, Pope Gregory changed the beginning of Lent to start 46 days before Easter, which allowed for 40 days of fasting. Six days were included as days to feast.
While Ash Wednesday is not mentioned in the Bible, ashes have always served as a mark for sorrow. Bible Info notes, “Several times the Bible mentions people repenting in dust and ashes; for example: Mordecai (Esther 4:1), Job (Job 42:6), the inhabitants of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-6), and Daniel (Daniel 9:3-4). Repentance in dust and ashes often was accompanied with fasting during Bible times.”
The ashes are typically made by burning the palm fronds used on Palm Sunday the previous year. And while many of those celebrating the holiday once had to enter a church to receive their ashes, many churches now offer ashes to go on subways and train platforms to accomodate the busy worker.