It's Ash Wednesday on Wednesday, Feb. 10, when Christians around the globe begin to observe the Lenten season in preparation for Easter.
Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting, is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity. It occurs 46 days (40 days of fasting if six Sundays, not fasting days, are excluded) before Easter. This year, Easter falls on March 27.
Ash Wednesday is observed by many Western Christians, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics.
According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan.
Lent originated as a mirroring of this, fasting for 40 days as preparation for Easter.
Every Sunday in Lent was seen as a commemoration of the Sunday of Christ's resurrection and so as a feast day on which fasting was inappropriate.
Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches blessed on the previous year's Palm Sunday, and placing them on the foreheads of participants to the accompaniment of the words "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" or "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
The Bible makes no specific mention of Ash Wednesday, but practices observed during the day such as mourning in sackcloth and ashes are found throughout the Old and New Testaments, according to Christian Today.
The period of fasting for 40 days is, however, mentioned in Matthew 4, where Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the Judean wilderness praying and fasting, reported Christian Today.
The act of placing ashes on the foreheads of believers is known as a sign of repentance and humility. Ashes also symbolize grief, so it's a way of showing how remorseful people feel for sinning against God and causing a division from Him, said Christian Today.
Usually, fasting requires observers to abstain from food. But nowadays, Christians make personal vows of abstinence, such as giving up meat, chocolate, or carbonated drinks. Some make a vow not to indulge in gossip or simply practice greater humility, according to Christian Today.
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