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For many Christians, Ash Wednesday has long and interesting history

February 14 this year is also Ash Wednesday. Although millions of Christians will participate, the significance is not always appreciated by many Protestants. The website Mental Floss shared seven facts about Ash Wednesday

Not all Christians observe Ash Wednesday. Although Ash Wednesday is perhaps most closely associated with Catholicism, there are many Christian denominations that recognize it, including Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Evangelical Covenant, Presbyterians and some Baptists. There are also Christians that refrain from Ash Wednesday celebrations, includng Pentecostals.

The ash has biblical significance. The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are meant to represent dust. When receiving ashes on their foreheads, parishioners hear the words: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This is a reference what God says to Adam when exiling him from the garden. On Ash Wednesday, the saying is a reminder to be humble in the face of mortality.

The history of Ash Wednesday is less than 1,000 years old. The first Ash Wednesday ceremonies likely were held sometime in 11th century. It’s never mentioned in the Bible, but a verse in the book of Daniel that links fasting to ashes, and some scholars believe this is the origin of the Lenten practice. Ash Wednesday didn’t gain mainstream popularity with Christians in the United States until the 1970s.

Ashes are recycled from last Lent. The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are surprisingly eco-friendly. On Palm Sunday, many churches pass out palm fronds like those used to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem days before his crucifixion. Some churches save those palms to burn them and make the ashes that are applied to peoples’ foreheads roughly 11 months later.

There are rules about what you can eat on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting. For many Christians, that doesn’t mean abstaining from food completely. Instead, observers of the holy day should limit themselves to one whole meal plus two smaller meals that, when added up, don’t equal a meal they would eat on a normal day. Christians marking Ash Wednesday also should avoid eating meat as they would on Fridays during Lent.

In Iceland, Ash Wednesday can look like Halloween. The first day of Lent in Iceland, called Öskudagur, is similar to Halloween in the United States. Kids dress up in costumes and tour their neighborhoods singing songs in exchange for candy. The holiday even makes room for mischief — in one fading tradition, kids will sometimes pin “ash bags” (often filled with grains instead of ash) to the backs of their peers when they aren’t looking.

People can get ashes without going to church. Many parishes have started offering “ashes to go” on Ash Wednesday. Priests and pastors will often station themselves in public places such as street corners, parking lots and public transit stops, prepared to administer blessed ashes to whoever asks to receive them.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

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