sh Wednesday is a primarily Catholic holiday that marks the start of Lent. During Lent, many Christians get ready for Easter by practicing fasts, repentance, self-denial and spiritual discipline. Ash Wednesday occurs six-and-a-half weeks or 40 days (excluding Sundays) before Easter Sunday. This year Ash Wednesday will be celebrated on March 6th 2019.

Priest in white preparing ashes for Ash Wednesday.

Why is Ash Wednesday Celebrated?

Many Christians across the globe believe that Ash Wednesday is the day one should leave their sins behind. It is a day of remorse and regret, a day to remember their sins and to make a fresh start, usually through personal and communal confession.

Ash Wednesday represents a time of less leisure, a time to quit earthly pleasures such as food, smoking, liquor or anything you love to do. As per tradition, this service helps an individual remember the sacrifices of Christ and shows their readiness to kneel before God in repentance.

As for the history and beginnings of Lent, the practice of Lent was not official until the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. Many Christian scholars agree that by the end of the 4th century, the 40-day period of Lent came into being, and the practice of prayer and fasting was established.

What Happens on Ash Wednesday?

On this day, Christians of various denominations observe the holiday by getting a cross made of ashes on their forehead.

While making the cross on the forehead of the believers, the priest reminds observers, “Remember you are dust and unto dust, you shall return.” Although not mentioned specifically in the Holy Bible, many believers keep the cross for the rest of the day to show that they feel repentance, while others remove the sign.

A program known as the ‘Ashes to Go’ is practiced outside many church premises, where the priests bless other Christians at public places. They exercise this program to help make people of surrounding communities aware of their customs.

Pile of ashes with cross drawn through it.

Origin of Ashes and What They Symbolize

In many congregations, priests use the ashes formed by burning palm branches, saved from the previous Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday, the priest blesses and distribute palm branches to worshipers, a reference to the account of Jesus Christ’s ceremonial entrance into Jerusalem, when devotees laid palm branches onto his path.

The ashes of this day symbolize demise and regret. “Ashes are equal to dust, and human flesh is composed of dust or clay (Genesis 2:7), and when a dead human body decays, it returns to dust or ash.”

When worshipers receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, it shows repentance for their sins, and that they want to practice the period of Lent to make a fresh start by correcting their faults, purification of the heart, self-control of desires and grow in holiness. This entire practice helps them get ready to celebrate Easter with great joy.

For many Christians of different denominations, Good Friday denotes the peak of Lenten celebration. The 40 day period of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. This day denotes the start of the 40 days of fasting and repentance, ending on Good Friday.