7 Things You Might Not Know About Ash Wednesday

iStock.com/sterlsev
iStock.com/sterlsev

In 2019, millions of Christians around the world will attend an Ash Wednesday service on March 6 to mark the start of the 2019 Lenten season. The practice of marking worshippers' foreheads with ashes in the shape of a cross is one of Christianity's most visible rituals, but it's just one component of the holy day. Whether or not you observe it, here are some facts about Ash Wednesday worth knowing.

1. Not all Christians observe Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City in 2016.
Ash Wednesday at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City in 2016.
Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

While Ash Wednesday is perhaps most closely associated with Catholicism, there are many Christian sects that recognize it, including Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and some Baptists. There are also Christians that refrain from Ash Wednesday celebrations. Mormons, Evangelicals, and Pentecostal Christians are some of the denominations that don't take part in the holy day.

2. The ash has biblical significance.

A priest prepares black ashes for the Ash Wednesday ceremony in Surabaya, Indonesia in 2014.
A priest prepares black ashes for the Ash Wednesday ceremony in Surabaya, Indonesia in 2014.
Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images

The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are meant to represent dust. When receiving ashes on their foreheads, parishioners hear the words: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return." This is a reference what God says to Adam when exiling him from the Garden of Eden (in the Christian Bible, Adam is literally formed from dust). On Ash Wednesday, the saying is a reminder to be humble in the face of mortality.

3. The history of Ash Wednesday is less than 1000 years old.

A minister performs an Ash Wednesday service at the Kandahar Airbase in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2002.
A minister performs an Ash Wednesday service at the Kandahar Airbase in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2002.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The first Ash Wednesday ceremonies were likely held sometime in 11th century CE. It's never mentioned in the Bible, but there is a verse in the Book of Daniel that links fasting to ashes, and some scholars believe this is the origin of the Lenten practice. Ash Wednesday didn't gain mainstream popularity with Christians in the U.S. until the 1970s.

4. Ashes are recycled from last Lent.

A cross and burned palm leaves in ash.
iStock.com/Coompia77

The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are surprisingly eco-friendly. On Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, many churches pass out palm fronds like those used to welcome Jesus Christ to Jerusalem days before his crucifixion. Some churches save those palms to burn them and make the ashes that are applied to peoples' foreheads roughly 11 months later.

5. There are rules about what you can eat on Ash Wednesday.

New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan joins fellow volunteers distributing food at a breadline at St. Francis Assisi on Ash Wednesday in 2012 in New York City.
New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan joins fellow volunteers distributing food at a breadline at St. Francis Assisi on Ash Wednesday in 2012 in New York City.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting. For many Christians, that doesn't mean abstaining from food completely: Instead, observers of the holy day should limit themselves to one whole meal plus two smaller meals that, when added up, don't equal a meal they would eat on a normal day. Christians marking Ash Wednesday should also avoid eating meat like they would on Fridays during Lent. (Filet-o-fish is still fine to eat, though.)

6. In Iceland, Ash Wednesday can look like Halloween.

A child dressed as a dragon celebrates Ash Wednesday with his parents dressed as police officers in 2011.
A child dressed as a dragon celebrates Ash Wednesday with his parents (dressed as police officers) in 2011.
ROLAND WEIHRAUCH/AFP/Getty Images

The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is normally reserved for indulgence and revelry (think: Mardi Gras), but in Iceland, the fun doesn't stop there. The first day of Lent in Iceland, called Öskudagur, is similar to Halloween in the U.S. Kids dress up in costumes and tour their neighborhoods singing songs in exchange for candy. The holiday even makes room for mischief—in one fading tradition, kids will sometimes pin "ash bags" (often filled with grains instead of ash) to the backs of their peers when they aren't looking.

7. You can get ashes without going to church.

In celebration of Ash Wednesday, a member of the Urban Village Church rubs ashes on the forehead of a commuter outside of a subway station in Chicago in 2018.
In celebration of Ash Wednesday, a member of the Urban Village Church rubs ashes on the forehead of a commuter outside of a subway station in Chicago in 2018.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Can't make it to church on a weekday? Many parishes have started offering "ashes to go" on Ash Wednesday. Priests and pastors will often station themselves in public places—like street corners, parking lots, and public transit stops—prepared to administer blessed ashes to whoever asks to receive them.

Along those lines, you don't need to be a church leader to administer ashes. Many churches give parishioners the option to take packets of ashes home with them to apply to the foreheads of loved ones who couldn't make it to the service. Receiving ashes isn't a sacrament, so the rules surrounding it aren't as strict as they are with something like holy communion in the Catholic church.

Learn Python From Home for Just $50

Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels.com
Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels.com

It's difficult to think of a hobby or job that doesn’t involve some element of coding in its execution. Are you an Instagram enthusiast? Coding and algorithms are what bring your friends' posts to your feed. Can’t get enough Mental Floss? Coding brings the entire site to life on your desktop and mobile screens. Even sorting through playlists on Spotify uses coding. If you're tired of playing catch-up with all the latest coding techniques and principles, the 2020 Python Programming Certification Bundle is on sale for $49.99 to teach you to code, challenge your brain, and boost your resume to get your dream job.

Basically, coding is how people speak to computers (cue your sci-fi vision of a chat with a creepy, sentient computer), and while it does sound a bit futuristic, the truth is that people are talking to computers every day through a program called Python. The 2020 Python Programming Training Certification Bundle will teach you how to build web applications, database applications, and web visualizations in the world’s most popular programming language.

Python is also the language computers are using to communicate back to programmers. You’ll learn how Jupyter Notebook, NumPy, and pandas can enhance data analysis and data visualization techniques with Matplotlib.

Think back to your creepy, sci-fi visual from earlier; was it some form of artificial intelligence? Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, artificial intelligence is something you can learn to create yourself. In the Keras Bootcamp, you’ll learn how to create artificial neural networks and deep-learning structures with Google’s powerful Deep Learning framework.

Coding is associated with endless text, numbers, and symbols, but the work code is performing is hardly limited to copy. Dig deep into image processing and computer vision tasks with sessions in OpenCV. You’ll give yourself an extra edge when you can use Python for sifting through information and implement machine learning algorithms on image classification.

Explore coding education with the bundle’s 12 courses, spanning from beginner to advanced levels, to elevate your skillset from home. The 2020 Python Programming Certification Bundle is on sale for $49.99.

 

The Complete 2020 Python Programming Certification Bundle - $49.99

See Deal



At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

6 Things We Know About the Game of Thrones Prequel Series, House of the Dragon

HBO
HBO

By the time Game of Thrones wrapped up its record-breaking eight-season run in 2019, it was a no-brainer that HBO would be producing another GoT series to keep the success going. The first announced show in the works, which was reportedly picked from a few prequel ideas, was going to chronicle a time thousands of years before the start of GoT, and was set to star actress Naomi Watts. Unfortunately, that project was eventually scrapped after the pilot was shot—but a new prequel series, House of the Dragon, was announced in October 2019. Here's what we know about it so far.

1. House of the Dragon will be based on George R.R. Martin's book Fire & Blood.

George R.R. Martin's novel Fire & Blood, which tells the story of House Targaryen, will serve as the source of inspiration for the plot of House of the Dragon. The first of two volumes was published in 2018, and takes place 300 years before Game of Thrones.

2. House of the Dragon will likely chronicle the Targaryen family's tumultuous past.

Game of Thrones showed that the Targaryen family has a long-standing history of inbreeding, secrets, betrayal, war, and insanity. Fire & Blood covers topics like the first Aegon Targaryen's conquest of the Seven Kingdoms and his subsequent reign, as well as the lives of his sons. Seems like we'll probably be meeting Dany's ancestors, and Martin confirmed there will definitely be dragons present—maybe even Balerion the Black Dread, the biggest dragon in all of Westerosi history.

3. George R.R. Martin and Ryan Condal are co-creators of House of the Dragon.

Co-Executive Producer George R.R. Martin arrives at the premiere of HBO's 'Game Of Thrones' Season 3 at TCL Chinese Theatre on March 18, 2013 in Hollywood, California
George R.R. Martin
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Martin shared on his blog that he's been working with writer and producer Ryan Condal (Rampage, Colony), on the show. "Ryan Condal is new to Westeros, but not to me," the acclaimed author wrote. "I first met Ryan when he came to New Mexico to shoot a pilot for a fantasy western that was not picked up. I visited his set and we became friendly ... He’s a terrific writer … and a fan of my books since well before we met." In another blog post, Martin said that the show's script and bible were "terrific, first-rate, exciting." Sounds like we'll be in good hands.

5. A Game of Thrones director is returning for House of the Dragon.

Per a tweet from the Game of Thrones Twitter account announcing the show, Miguel Sapochnik, who directed many of the original HBO series' biggest episodes, such as "Battle of the Bastards" and "Hardhome," will be returning for House of the Dragon as showrunner alongside Condal. Sapochnik is also known for directing a handful of other notable shows, such as True Detective, Masters of Sex, and Altered Carbon.

6. House of the Dragon could be coming in 2022.

HBO ordered 10 episodes of House of the Dragon, and HBO president of programming Casey Bloys said he thought that the show would debut "sometime in 2022." However, with the film industry facing major delays due to safety concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, there's no word on when the show will begin filming.

Meanwhile, Martin revealed that he won't be writing any scripts for House of the Dragon until he finishes The Winds of Winter, which has been in the works since A Dance With Dragons, his most recent book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, debuted in 2011. The good news, however, is that Martin says he has been "writing every day" while keeping indoors and social distancing, leaving fans with the hope that The Winds of Winter will come soon.