10 things to know about Ash Wednesday

As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, reorganising life as we knew it, some things, like Ash Wednesday, remain intact.

Today, Christians across the world will head out, or in some instances stay home wait on the church van, for a packet of ashes to apply to their foreheads as they perform the age-old ritual that marks the beginning of Lent.

Today BUZZ shares 10 facts worth knowing about Ash Wednesday, even if you don’t observe the day.

1. Ash Wednesday is not a fixed date and occurs exactly 46 days before Easter Sunday – which is based on the cycles of the moon. As such, the earliest date Ash Wednesday can occur is February 4. The next time Ash Wednesday will be on February 4 is in 2285.

2. Some Christians do not observe Ash Wednesday, particularly churches which follow Eastern traditions. In 1522, Protestant followers of the Zurich reformer Ulrich Zwingli famously broke the Lenten fast by eating sausages as a symbol of their freedom in Christ.

3. In Ireland Ash Wednesday is National No Smoking Day.

4. It is a relatively new tradition: The first Ash Wednesday ceremonies were likely held sometime in the 11th century.

5. Ash Wednesday is never mentioned in the Bible: However, some proponents of the holy day point to a bible verse in Daniel that links fasting to ashes, and some scholars believe this is the origin of the practice.

6. Given that the day is one in which Christians fast, there are special rules about what they can eat on Ash Wednesday. Christians observing Ash Wednesday usually abstain from eating meat like they would on the Fridays during Lent. Fish is an exception.

7. Prior to the pandemic, and now even more due to the prolonged nature of the event, some members church leaders have opted to modernise the ritual offering ‘Ashes to Go’. ‘Ashes to Go’ is an activity in which clergy go outside of their churches to public places to distribute ashes to passers-by.

8. The phrase “Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris” is usually said as ashes are ceremonially placed on the heads of Christians on Ash Wednesday. The Latin expression is based on Genesis 3:19 which states, “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”

9. Ashes used in Christian ceremonies are usually prepared by burning palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations.

10. In Iceland, the first day of lent is called Öskudagur, and similar to Halloween in the US kids dress up in costumes and tour their neighborhoods singing songs in exchange for treats.