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Photo: berni0004 (Shutterstock) Later this week, I’m sure you’ll notice people walking around with crosses smudged on their foreheads. Maybe you’ll think, “Oh, right. Ash Wednesday, which is…some kind of religious day.” And you’d be right—it is some kind of religious day, and if you want to know more, here are the whats, whys, and wherefores of the Christian tradition of smearing ashes on your forehead. Ash Wednesday has been around since at least the 11th century. It marks the beginning of the Lenten season in many Christian denominations and takes place 46 days before Easter. The concept behind Ash Wednesday is penance. It is a day to confess sins, ask forgiveness from God, and ponder the transitory nature of our physical bodies. Ash Wednesday isn’t mentioned specifically in the Bible, but back in the early days of Christianity, egregious sinners were expected to spend the weeks preceding Easter in sackcloth and ashes, doing serious repenting so they’d be pure enough to take Easter communion. At some point, someone seems to have realized that we are all sinners, and everyone started getting ashes sprinkled or daubed on their heads. How does Ash Wednesday work? The specifics vary from church to church, but if you go to a Catholic mass on Ash Wednesday, the priest will usually give a sermon related to the theme of repentance, or Lent in general. Then you’ll line up to have ashes applied to your forehead. The priest will most likely say something like, “Remember […]