Yeah, today is the beginning of Lent and the day when, back in the states, people would be constantly stopping me to point out the dirt in the middle of my forehead. When I would explain, especially during the years I lived in Berkeley, I was often met with astonishment and wonder as if folks had forgotten Catholics still existed in California.
Out here in Ireland, it would seem most folks still revere the holy day of obligation and head down to the church to get ashes smeared onto their foreheads. It’s refreshing and a little bizarre to be in a place where the whole culture practices these things. I too easily forget that this is a nation that, only recently, even had something resembling a separation of church and state.
So, for those out there who might be in Ireland on Ash Wednesday and are wondering “What’s with the little black mark on everyone’s head?” Well, it all started with Genesis:
“Remember, man, that you are dust
And unto dust you shall return.”
Ash Wednesday happens to mark the 46 days of Lent, the period before Easter. Traditionally it was a period of fasting. A lot of Irish people today still give up the drink for this period . . . making it a dark day for the Irish forehead AND the Irish publican. It’s a day of repentance wherein one is meant to remember the sacrifices of Christ keep in mind how one might have fallen short of being the sort of loving, good person upon whom that kind of gift might be bestowed.
On Ash Wednesday itself, Irish Catholics eat only one meal (though many fast the entire day). In any case, there is no meat consumed. The ashes themselves are made from the burned palms from Palm Sunday (the day Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem) and oil.
The only real break in this period of fasting in Ireland is on Sundays (which are feast days) and St Patrick’s Day, wherein the Irish go completely nuts for 24 hours.
Bring on the chocolate eggs!