Today is known as Shrove Tuesday or the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. There are different practices surrounding Shrove Tuesday. Many ethnic groups take the day to clean out the sweets and fat from the home. My husband’s Polish family made Panczka’s, a fried twisted bread that is covered with powder sugar. These were made to use up the fat and sugar that would be limited in lent. Other countries have different foods for this day. The most popular food is pancakes. in Great Britain and France, the pancakes are crepe like and rolled up with fillings. In Ireland, people eat a type of potato pancake. In Russia, the pancakes are buckwheat pancakes served with caviar, sour cream or jelly. A friend told me about her Italian mother in law who would cook a crepe type of pancake with fresh shredded horseradish in the cake. Everyone was to take a small bite of the pancake. I think that the horseradish symbolized the bitterness of our life as in the Seder meal.
The day is set aside to contemplate and pray what changes a person will do in the 40 days of lent. Sometimes this takes the form of giving up a favorite food or activity. Other times the practice is fasting and more meditation and prayer time to be observed during lent.
On Ash Wednesday, a person may see a co-worker or a friend with a smear of ashes on the forehead or ashes sprinkled on the head. This may be startling but it is an opportunity to have a conversation and learn about another’s beliefs and practices.
The history of sprinkling ashes or anointing the forehead with the sign of the cross in ashes is less than 1000 years old. But Christians and other religious groups have used ashes to symbolize penance and remorse for sinful practices. The priest or minister will pull the ashes on each person while saying “You are ashes and to ashes will you will return.” In more modern times the minister may say, ”Repent and believe in the cross. The ashes are from the previous years palms from Palm Sunday. They are blessed and distributed through out Ash Wednesday.
There is no mandate to wear the ashes all day, but many Christians do wear the ashes as a reminder of the start of days of fasting and prayer.
In the Catholic church, Ash Wednesday and all the fridays of lent are meatless. In addition on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Adults are expected to fast with one meal or two small meals in the 24 hour period. This is the minimum requested but many Catholics and other Christians practice more fasting along with prayer time and bible reading.
On Ash Wednesday, some Christians limit their intake to bread and water to mimic Jesus in the desert.
This year, with the corona virus limits on crowds, many churches are placing ashes in an area for individuals to receive their own ashes.
Whatever way you chose to observe this day, a time of reflection and renewal coinciding with the renewal of nature gives a spirit of new starts and
The Cantical of ash
You are dust, and to dust you shall return.
But ash has a residue of
Farmers apply ash to fields to encourage new growth.
I embrace my ashes
to burn away distractions
leaving only my core
I embrace, follow and believe.