Imua 'Iolani

563 Kamoku Street

Honolulu, Hawai'i

Ash Wednesday: What is it and why do we observe it?

March 14, 2019

     After eating all we could on Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday trailed on its heels. Many know that Ash Wednesday is a holy day of  prayer and fasting, but there is more to that day. So, what exactly is Ash Wednesday about?

     Ash Wednesday welcomes the start of the Christian season of Lent, a 40-day period of reflection and penitence (having sorrow for sins and wrongdoing). The main activity of Ash Wednesday involves a priest or chaplain who administers ashes, made by the burning of palm fronds, and marks a cross on the bowed foreheads of people in front of them.  This represents a very solemn thought--that we came from ashes and we shall turn to them. The season of Lent is not marked by happiness like Advent, but rather of deep thought; churches follow their belief of what Jesus contemplated for the 40 days and 40 nights he was alone. Clergy encourage churchgoers to think of their impact in the community, since a legacy is what people  leave behind instead of physical property. It is empowering for people to help better their communities, no matter how big or small.

     These traditions are shown in many communities, including ʻIolani School.

‘Iolani celebrates Ash Wednesday each year with an informative chapel service that reflects on the gospel and on Jesus and his apostles. The chaplains discuss how students must remember to repent and to think about what they have done. Many ‘Iolani students follow the Ash Wednesday tradition of  having the sign of the cross marked on their foreheads by a chaplain; however, many do not always fully grasp the meaning behind the day.

     “I know people who put ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday, but I don’t know why,” says Mara Goldstein ’23.  

     Others celebrate this day whenever they can.

     “My family has gone to get ashes other years, but we did not this year,” says Isabel Adams ’23.

The Reverend David Smith encourages others to think about and analyze these holy days.

“You should get an idea of these events and then ask yourself, what is this about? You shouldn’t do this because that’s what others are doing, but you should because that is what you believe.”  As a day celebrated by Christians and with today’s world less focused on religion, the meaning of Ash Wednesday is changing.

Says Reverend Smith, “We need to re-evaluate our beliefs. Religion is a code of life meant for some, not everyone. Follow what your believe and not what others want you to believe.”


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