28 Feb Ash Wednesday, the First Day of Lent
The Christian holiday known as Ash Wednesday is the first day of the season of Lent, a 40-day (not counting Sundays) period of repentance and fasting before celebrating Easter. Invariably occuring 46 days prior to Easter, it is – like Easter – a movable date. In 2017, it falls on the 1st of March.
Many devout Christians attend services at their church on Ash Wednesdays. During these services, a minister or priest may use ashes (representing repentance and mourning) to rub the sign of the cross on attendants’ foreheads. These ashes are sometimes gathered from palms burned on Palm Sunday the year before. This day is frequently a day of fasting, with Christians being allowed a full meal and two small meals (but no meat), although many fast on just bread and water. Fasting may continue all the way through Lent and in particular on Good Friday. As a sacrificial offer, Christians may also give something up for Lent. This is typically something they enjoy, such as, for instance, playing video games, drinking alcohol or coffee; eating chocolate, having showers with hot water or even sleeping in bed.
Ash Wednesday, a Brief History
Ash Wednesday is not mentioned anywhere within the Bible, but is celebrated in honour of events described by it. The 40-day duration of Lent signifies the 40 days spent by Jesus in the desert and his temptation by the devil during this period. The Bible mentions dusting of ashes as a sign showing repentance and mourning, and the cross is drawn onto foreheads to symbolise the cross on which Jesus died to cleanse the world of sin. The day was first observed during the Middle Ages, somewhere around the 8th Century. It has since become a yearly ritual in Catholic; Lutheran, Methodist and many other Christian churches.
Ash Wednesday always occurs on the final day of carnival or the day following Mardi Gras. During the Middle Ages, the ashes were not drawn onto the forehead in the shape of a cross, but sprinkled onto the head. Many Christians keep the ashes on the forehead for the whole day to show that they are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness. As observing this day is not a biblical command, observance is optional in some churches, as is Lent. The 40-day period is frequently used within the Bible.
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