All About Ash Wednesday
by Caitlin Connolly
Ash Wednesday is a tradition celebrated largely by Roman Catholics, as well as many other Christian denominations and marks the commencement of Lent, a celebration of the 40 days and nights Jesus endured in the desert. It is celebrated yearly between 4th February and 10th March, occurring 46 days before Easter. In Western churches, Ash Wednesday marks the 7th Wednesday prior to Easter, thereupon this year it will take place on Wednesday 10th February. Comparably, Eastern churches begin the fasting period on the 7th Monday before Easter, taking place on Monday 8th February 2016.
According to the bible, Jesus Christ endured 40 long days without food in the desert and was aroused by Satan in a tormenting process. As a result, Lent is celebrated by 46 days of fasting, which includes six days of rest to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Consequently, on Ash Wednesday, ashes made from palm branches that have already been blessed during the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration are placed on the heads of individuals who celebrate the ritual during a religious service at church. Ash Wednesday thus marks the first day of the fasting period and the ashes symbolize the commencement of this phase.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent, which is an old English word meaning “lengthen”, and interestingly, purple is the figurative colour for drapes and church décor during this season. Purple is symbolic of mourning and so signifies the agony and distress of the crucifixion, as well as the colour’s connotation with royalty therefore it commends Christ’s dominance.
Commonly, many people conform to their habitual daily routines when receiving ashes, as fasting is not perceived as a punishment. The individual does not have to wear the ashes for the rest of the day, yet many keep the ashes as a reminder until nightfall. Other customs include eating only one full meal on Ash Wednesday that does not include any meat, with Roman Catholics, as well as many other denominations, observing each Friday during lent as meat free days. Nowadays, people often abstain from a specific food item instead of entirely fasting and often use it as an opportunity to lose weight or abandon unhealthy during Lent.
In essence, Ash Wednesday is a time to reflect on one’s wrongdoings and transgressions and is seen as a reason of forgiveness. Accordingly, this is a significant period of time for many Christians to reflect on their lives and appreciate the larger cultural meaning of Ash Wednesday and Lent.