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Ash Wednesday: celebrating the first day of Lent


(Noah Seelam/Getty Images)

What is Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent.

Lent is a 40 day period that leads up to Easter, and is observed by many Christian faiths. It actually takes place over 46 days, but Sundays aren’t counted.

During Lent, people might fast, or not eat certain foods, or give up things they like to do like play video games or watch television.

This time of reflection and self-discipline is meant to prepare the faithful for Easter, the most important day in the Christian calendar.

Want to learn more about Lent? Check out our explainer!

What’s with the ashes?

Many Catholics traditionally attend a church service on Ash Wednesday.

an archbishop make a sign of the cross in ash on the forehead of a young girl

Receiving the symbol of the cross on the forehead on Ash Wednesday at Saint Mary's Basilica, Secunderabad, India, 2018. (Noah Seelam/Getty Images)

Near the end of the service, everyone lines up, and the priest or minister draws a cross on their foreheads with ashes.

While doing this, they will usually say “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This is a phrase from the bible meant to remind everyone that life is only temporary and they should change themselves for the better.

This year, with social distancing, this may be done a different way so that people keep two metres apart and wear masks.

Where do the ashes come from?

The Sunday before Easter is known as Palm Sunday.

In the Catholic church and many other Christian faiths, members of the church are given blessed palm leaves during the service.

These symbolize Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem when his path was covered with palm branches.

Every year, the ashes for Ash Wednesday are made by burning the palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday.

Do all Christians observe Ash Wednesday?

Catholics pray in church during Ash Wednesday services

Marked with a cross of black ash on their foreheads, Catholics pray during Ash Wednesday services in Washington, D.C., 2012. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Ash Wednesday is most often associated with the Catholic church.

Today, you can find many other groups marking the day such as Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists and other Christian denominations.