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Ash Wednesday

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noun

the first day of Lent.

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Origin of Ash Wednesday

First recorded in 1250–1300
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

VOCAB BUILDER

What is Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the season of fasting and penitence that precedes Easter in some branches of Christianity.

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the tradition of placing ashes on worshippers’ foreheads as a sign of penitence and a reminder of their mortality.

When is Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday happens 46 days before Easter Sunday. (Lent is often considered a period of 40 days, but it actually consists of 40 weekdays.) Since Easter Sunday moves every year, Ash Wednesday can fall between February 4 and March 10.

In 2021, Ash Wednesday falls on February 17. In 2022, Ash Wednesday falls on March 2.

More information and context on Ash Wednesday

The first records of the term Ash Wednesday come from the 1200s. The tradition of Christians having ashes placed on their forehead (often in a cross shape) on this day is based on the idea of ashes as a symbol of mortality. This theme is sometimes expressed with a specific Biblical passage: “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” The ashes in some cases come from palms used on the previous year’s Palm Sunday.

Ash Wednesday is sometimes observed as a day of fasting, though specific practices vary, with individual churches and individual Christians observing the day in different ways.

Because Lent is a time of fasting and abstaining, the period leading up to it has become, for some, a time for indulging before the Lenten fast begins. This is especially the case for the day before Ash Wednesday, which can be called Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday) or Shrove Tuesday (which is sometimes called Pancake Day due to the tradition of eating pancakes on that day).

What are some terms that often get used in discussing Ash Wednesday?

How is Ash Wednesday discussed in real life?

Among certain Christians, Ash Wednesday is observed as the first day first day of fasting or abstaining during Lent. For this reason, it is sometimes preceded by a day of indulging, and this tradition has become popular in some places even among non-Christians.

Try using Ash Wednesday!

True or False?

Ash Wednesday is always the first day of Lent.

British Dictionary definitions for Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

noun

the first day of Lent, named from the practice of Christians of placing ashes on their heads as a sign of penitence
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

The seventh Wednesday before Easter; the first day of Lent for most Christians (see also Christian); the day after “Fat Tuesday,” or Mardi Gras. It is frequently observed as a day of fasting and repentance for sin. In some churches, ashes are placed on the foreheads of worshipers on Ash Wednesday as a reminder of their mortality. The words of God to Adam in the Bible (see also Bible) are often used in the ceremony: “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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