Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the Western Christian calendar.
It occurs exactly 46 days before Easter (40 fasting days not counting Sundays). It is a moveable fast that can fall as early as February 4 and as late as March 10.
Ash Wednesday is named after the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of faithful as a reminder of human mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance to God.
Ash Wednesday is being observed by most Christian, including Catholics, Anglicans, many Lutherans and Methodists.
In the Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is observed by fasting, abstinence from meat.
The Anglican Book of Common Prayer also designates Ash Wednesday as a day of fasting.
The custom of sprinkling ashes as a sign of mourning and repentance, celebrated on Ash Wednesday, is known in many cultures and traditions, including in ancient Egypt, Arabs and Greece.
In the liturgy, it appeared in the eighth century — the first testimony of the practice comes from the tenth century.
In 1091, Pope Urban II launched the custom as binding the whole Church.
At the same time, it has been established that the ash has to come from the palm trees dedicated on Palm Sunday of the previous year.