Fat Tuesday is a legendary day of excess for good reason: it’s the last hurrah before a 40-day period of fasting known as Lent. It all begins the day after, on Ash Wednesday, which is recognized as a period for mourning Jesus Christ’s suffering. On this day, the sign of the cross is smudged onto believers’ foreheads in ash, symbolizing our sins.
While Catholics also fast on this Wednesday and on Fridays during the Lent period, Pope Francis suggested in his Lenten message last year that if we’re going to fast from anything, whether it’s candy or alcohol, that we also fast from indifference towards others. “Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience,” wrote Pope Francis. Considering taking part in the mystique of this ancient day this year? Here are 10 facts that may make you see this special holiday in a new light.
1. The Ash on the Forehead Remains a Total Mystery
The ritual of applying ash on the face has debatable origins. Some say it symbolizes “ownership” in the Bible so that is therefore connected to obedience to the teachings of Jesus. Others trace it back to Vedic Hindus ceremonies that were likely adapted into Christian lore.
Read Related: 7 Things to Know About the History of Ash Wednesday
2. The #Ashtag Exists
Thanks to our social media addicted culture, the holiday is no longer just about repentance and self-examination, but about the perfect selfie with your ash cross. Even members of the clergy are now saying cheese for the camera while sporting their ashes.
3. Dust in the Wind
The poetic phrase “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” is the quintessential blessing for this holiday and is said when the priest applies the ashes.
4. Need Ashes to Go, but Can’t Get to Church?
For all your on the run smudging needs, just visit the website Ashestogo and find a list of distributors in your state. They’re located on street corners, transit stops, in shopping centers and on campuses, and more.
5. Where do the Ashes Come from You Ask?
Though some believe the palm ashes on your forehead “are made of atoms that came from stars in a far-flung part of the universe,” they usually come from not as interesting a place as last year’s palm tree burned on the Palm Sunday of the year before.
6. Those Long 40 Days Aren’t the Same for Everyone
Not all churches count those 40 days in the same way, some, luckily exclude Sundays. Nor does everyone fast to the same degree; many Americans give up a single indulgent item (chocolate, booze, cigarettes, sex) for example and that’s all. The more traditional engage in hardcore fasting and refrain from celebrations.
7. There’s Really no Obligation to Ash Yourself
It’s all up to you. Unlike some other major holidays, this holiday is not a Holy Day of Obligation. Believers don’t have to go to church, but they are encouraged to.
8. Ash Wednesday is Not Just for Roman Catholics
Parishioners from Western Orthodox Churches and some Protestant denominations, including Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans and other various churches celebrate, too.
9. The Rules of Abstaining
According to AmericanCatholic.org, Catholics between ages 18 -59 must fast on this holiday. Usually one regular-sized meal and two small meals are consumed daily. Catholics who are 14 years and older should abstain from eating meat. Fishing, anyone?
10. If You Fast, do it with a Positive Outlook
Be sure to put on a happy face during that 40 day Lent period and especially when you fast (hey, it will do wonders for your waistline!). In the Bible, Jesus Chris said, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.”