Christians around the world observe Ash Wednesday today on February 26, by smearing a cross of ash on their foreheads. The day marks the beginning of the 'lent' period that leads up to Easter festival. Ash Wednesday is observed exactly six and half weeks before the Easter festival that will be celebrated on, April 12 this year.

What is Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday
Representational Picture Wikimedia Commons

Ash Wednesday, is the starting of a 46-day period of fasting, practising self-sacrifice and observing the period with prayers and simple ways of life to commemorate the sufferings and sacrifices made by Jesus. This period is to prepare for the Easter, the day Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Out of this total period, fasting is observed for 40 days, with one meal a day, and Sundays are excluded.

The day begins with the smearing of ash on the forehead in the form of a cross. This is done symbolically to make believers officially start the lent period. The ash is prepared by burning the palm leaves that were collected during last year's Palm Sunday. The palm leaves that are carried by Christians during Palm Sunday symbolizes Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, the Sunday before he was crucified. Exactly one week later is Easter, the day Jesus rises from the dead.

Ash is used to start the period as it symbolizes death and repentance. It is termed necessary as Christians believe that Jesus died because of their sins and for their well-being. The ashes symbolize both death and repentance. During this period, Christians show repentance and mourning for their sins, because they believe Christ died for them. Usually, the priest applies ash on the forehead while he whispers "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

What is barred?

Christians are barred from eating outside and shopping on Ash Wednesday. Eating meat on the day is also not allowed. Christians are expected to give up eating meat on Fridays too during the 40-day lent period. To practice simple-life and self-sacrifice, many people give up eating sweets, the food they love, watching television, alcohol etc. during the lent season.