What Is Ash Wednesday?


Quick Answer

Ash Wednesday is an official Christian religious holiday that takes place on the day before Lent, a period of fasting and penance; the exact date of Ash Wednesday varies from year to year, though it does occur precisely 40 days before Easter and typically falls in either February or early March. Some people may be seen with ashen crosses inscribed on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday. This ritualistic practice is a part of the religious observance of Ash Wednesday as the start of the Lenten season, with many practitioners attending church services on Ash Wednesday, during which time a priest or other religious leader will mark churchgoers' foreheads with this ashen cross.

Continue Reading
What Is Ash Wednesday?
Credit: Design Pics/Con Tanasiuk Getty Images

Full Answer

This cross is marked with ashes obtained from the ritual burning of palm fronds on Palm Sunday, which takes place the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. The ash gets mixed into a paste either with holy water or oil so it will adhere to the skin. While there aren't official rules dictating how long individuals must wear this cross of ash on their foreheads, some churchgoers wear it all day on Ash Wednesday, as a way of making a public display of their faith. The use of ash in preparing for Lent is a very old practice dating back to before the 6th century C.E.

Learn more about Easter

Related Questions