Today (February 22) marks an important date in the Christian calendar – Ash Wednesday.
The religious holiday follows Shrove Tuesday – known by many as Pancake Day – and signals the coming of Lent.
After this period, Christians around the world will celebrate Good Friday and Easter, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus.
But what exactly is Ash Wednesday and where did its name derive from?
What is Ash Wednesday and who observes the day?
Ash Wednesday is a holy day of prayer, fasting and repentance. It is preceded by Shrove Tuesday and falls on the first day of Lent, the six weeks of penitence before Easter.
The date always falls 46 days before Easter Sunday and is chiefly observed by Catholics and Christians.
The Lenten period is one of reflection and repentance of sin, with those who observe it expected to seek reconciliation with God.
Many choose to give up an indulgence, or fast, during Lent as a representation of the Temptation of Christ as he fasted for 40 days and nights in the Judaean Desert.
Why is it called Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday gets its name from early traditions in the Christian Church in Rome, when penitents and sinners would partake in a period of public penance.
During this, they were sprinkled with ashes and dressed in a sackcloth until they were reconciled with church-goers on Maundy Thursday.
This practice had faded by the 10th Century, whereby Lent was marked by placing ashes in the shape of a cross on observers’ foreheads.
These ashes traditionally come from burning palms used on Palm Sunday.
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