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.
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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.

Turn Your LEGO Bricks Into a Drone With the Flybrix Drone Kit

Flyxbrix/FatBrain
Flyxbrix/FatBrain

Now more than ever, it’s important to have a good hobby. Of course, a lot of people—maybe even you—have been obsessed with learning TikTok dances and baking sourdough bread for the last few months, but those hobbies can wear out their welcome pretty fast. So if you or someone you love is looking for something that’s a little more intellectually stimulating, you need to check out the Flybrix LEGO drone kit from Fat Brain Toys.

What is a Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit?

The Flybrix drone kit lets you build your own drones out of LEGO bricks and fly them around your house using your smartphone as a remote control (via Bluetooth). The kit itself comes with absolutely everything you need to start flying almost immediately, including a bag of 56-plus LEGO bricks, a LEGO figure pilot, eight quick-connect motors, eight propellers, a propeller wrench, a pre-programmed Flybrix flight board PCB, a USB data cord, a LiPo battery, and a USB LiPo battery charger. All you’ll have to do is download the Flybrix Configuration Software, the Bluetooth Flight Control App, and access online instructions and tutorials.

Experiment with your own designs.

The Flybrix LEGO drone kit is specifically designed to promote exploration and experimentation. All the components are tough and can totally withstand a few crash landings, so you can build and rebuild your own drones until you come up with the perfect design. Then you can do it all again. Try different motor arrangements, add your own LEGO bricks, experiment with different shapes—this kit is a wannabe engineer’s dream.

For the more advanced STEM learners out there, Flybrix lets you experiment with coding and block-based coding. It uses an arduino-based hackable circuit board, and the Flybrix app has advanced features that let you try your hand at software design.

Who is the Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit for?

Flybrix is a really fun way to introduce a number of core STEM concepts, which makes it ideal for kids—and technically, that’s who it was designed for. But because engineering and coding can get a little complicated, the recommended age for independent experimentation is 13 and up. However, kids younger than 13 can certainly work on Flybrix drones with the help of their parents. In fact, it actually makes a fantastic family hobby.

Ready to start building your own LEGO drones? Click here to order your Flybrix kit today for $198.

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5 Organizations That Empower Black Communities—and How You Can Help

Attorney Nina Shaw speaks at a 2019 awards ceremony for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Attorney Nina Shaw speaks at a 2019 awards ceremony for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for NAACP LDF

As people gather across the nation to protest racial injustice and police brutality following the killing of George Floyd by a police officer, you might be wondering what you can do to help promote equality and empower Black communities. One great way is to donate to organizations committed to furthering those goals—from legal defense funds to healthcare initiatives, below are five organizations to consider contributing to (and you can check out more from this list, compiled by Charity Navigator).

1. Black Lives Matter

Founded in 2013 as a response to the acquittal of the man who killed Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter is a chapter-based organization that works to end state violence against members of Black communities and bring about social, economic, and political equality.

"We are guided by the fact that all Black lives matter, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status, or location," the organization explains on its website.

Click here to donate.

2. NAACP Legal Defense Fund

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund (LDF), established by Thurgood Marshall in 1940, is a law firm that focuses on upholding civil rights and achieving equality through structural change and racial justice.

"Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, LDF seeks structural changes to expand democracy, eliminate disparities, and achieve racial justice in a society that fulfills the promise of equality for all Americans," the LDF mission statement reads.

Click here to donate.

3. Black Women’s Health Imperative

While data on COVID-19 cases is still evolving, the CDC has acknowledged that the current numbers suggest "a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups." The CDC has also stated that Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women are "two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women." In short, Black women face unique risks when it comes to receiving quality healthcare and life-saving treatment, which makes the Black Women's Health Imperative especially important.

The mission of the Black Women's Health Imperative is "to lead the effort to solve the most pressing health issues that affect Black women and girls in the U.S." In addition to developing programs and supporting policies that help mitigate those issues, they also educate women on preventative measures, healthcare treatment, and more.

Click here to donate.

4. National Association of Black Journalists

The National Association of Black Journalists—the largest coalition of people of color in the journalism industry—seeks equal representation in the media by helping Black journalists progress to managerial positions, providing professional development training, awarding scholarships to students interested in journalism, and more. They also try to effect change in the industry at large by "sensitizing all media to the importance of fairness in the workplace for Black journalists."

Click here to donate.

5. Center for Black Equity

The Center for Black Equity supports Black LGBTQ+ individual by building a network of community-based organizations that, according to their mission statement, promote “health and wellness opportunities, economic empowerment, and equal rights while promoting individual and collective work, responsibility, and self-determination."

Click here to donate.