Ash Wednesday is a holy day of prayer and fasting in many Christian denominations. This year, it falls on Wednesday, February 22.
Ash Wednesday begins the 40 days of lent, a time when Christians remember that Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fasting and fighting temptation.
Although mostly observed by Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists and Lutheran also celebrate ash Wednesday.
This first day of Lent, occurs six and a half weeks before Easter. Catholics wear a marking of the cross in ash on their foreheads.
The ashes symbolize mortality – “from dust you came, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes are created by burning palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration.
Palm Sunday is the last Sunday of Lent and leads into ‘Holy Week’.
Since the palms have been blessed, instead of throwing them away after the celebration, they are saved to create ashes for Ash Wednesday.
Sometimes, the ashes are scented with incense and christened with holy water.
Catholics hold a special Mass and protestants hold a worship service, where the priest or pastor gives a reflective sermon and attendees engage in private or communal confession.
Then, the priest or pastor spreads the ashes on the forehead of the congregation, to symbolize death and repentance.
Believers in Christ around the world observe Ash Wednesday as a time for prayers and acts of charity.
During this period, some also give up things they like as they fast, including their favourite food items, watching television, or social media.
It is also the period when the faithful practice good deeds, such as almsgiving, and be particularly close to the needy and the suffering.
BY NKATHA WAINAINA