Today, February 14, marks the start of Lent.
It's the first time since 1945 the symbolic Christian event has fallen on the same date as Valentine's Day.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the 40-day period of fasting before Easter. The tradition points back to when Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days, as written in the book of Matthew in the Holy Bible.
Those unfamiliar with Lent may be curious about the ash cross marked on foreheads of Christians participating in Ash Wednesday. It is symbolic of the Bible verse Genesis 3:19, which reads, "For you were made from dust, and to dust you shall return."
The ashes are usually made by burning palm fronds distributed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year. According to religionnews.com, clergy all over the world dispense the ashes on the foreheads and remind those receiving them of the Genesis verse.
Churches throughout the U.S. offer different ways for people to receive ashes. Some take to the streets to provide ashes to anyone interested, such as Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Bakersfield, Calif., which in the past has given markings near the city's courthouses.
More about Lent
- Lent is a period of self-reflection.
- Those observing Lent typically give up something for 40 days. One of the most popular things given up is chocolate.
- Some may choose to begin doing something better rather than give something up. That may be volunteering, praying more or eating healthier, for example.
- As part of fasting through Lent, Catholics will not eat meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays throughout Lent, in accordance with the Code of Canon Law. That is why there is an emphasis on fish fry dinners this time of year.
This year, Lent ends March 29.