Hail to the king, baby.

This is where the joke about Deadite Jesus goes.This is probably going to come off as rude, condescending, and generally disrespectful. I apologize, and I invoke Hanlon’s Razor in my defense.

It’s that time of year again, though I wasn’t sure until I Googled it. I’d been seeing ads for fish sandwiches at places that normally don’t advertise their fish, so I figured Lent was coming up. Yesterday, they mentioned on the radio that it was Fat Tuesday, and therefore Mardi Gras. Much later in the day, the thought occurred to me: “Didn’t that mean something about Ash Wednesday? Is that the day following Fat Tuesday, or the day preceding Maundy Thursday, which I’m pretty sure is the day before Good Friday, which is right before Easter?” I Googled Ash Wednesday, and it came up at the top: February 25th, 2009.

For the first time in years, I was forewarned.

See, I don’t know that I’ve ever celebrated Ash Wednesday in any particular fashion. I’ve certainly never participated in Lent, and I don’t even remember hearing about it until I was in High School. Since then, and especially since I’ve been an atheist, I’ve thought of Ash Wednesday as “the day when it’s rude to tell someone they’ve got a little dirt on their face.”

I don’t mean anything by it, really. It’s not me flaunting my heathenness, it’s not about belittling anyone’s faith–as I confessed some time ago, I just don’t realize it’s intentional until after I say something. Open mouth, insert foot, hope there’s no palm fronds on the bottom of it.

This year, that could potentially cause actual problems, since I’m working as a government employee around plenty of churchgoers of various sorts, and trying to be inconspicuous when I mumble over that one line of the Pledge of Allegiance each morning. So, for the first time in quite awhile, I enter into Ash Wednesday with the knowledge that it’s Ash Wednesday, rather than figuring it out at 6:30 in the evening after seeing the seventh person in a row at Wal-Mart in need of a damp washcloth.

Incidentally, while the rest of the nation is getting monochromatic face-painting, I’ll be spending my afternoon judging a Science Fair. Good? Bad? I’m the guy with the clipboard.

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12 Responses to Hail to the king, baby.

  1. Dunc says:

    What!? People actually do that shit over there? Here in the UK, I have never, ever encountered anyone with ash on their face on Ash Wednesday. I thought that sort of thing went out of style in the Middle Ages…

  2. I’ve never, ever seen anyone do that either.

  3. Call me Paul says:

    Having merried into a Catholic family, I see tons of it. I always take the opportunity during this season, whenever someone mentions giving up something for lent, to tell them that I gave up something for lent many years ago that resulted in me never having to give up anything for lent ever again. When they ask what that was, I tell them, “silly religions.”

  4. Techskeptic says:

    Talk about insert foot…I was trying to be nice when I told this guy on the street he had some crap on his forehead he might want to wash off.Wow, what a tirade that came out o that guys mouth.

  5. Call me Paul says:

    Wait. Did I actually spell that word, “merried?” Well, family dinners are a bit like a cartoon sometimes.

  6. Will Staples says:

    Despite being raised as a Christian, I have never even heard of that custom – probably because I was in a very secular, liberal Protestant denomination, just like most other Christians in Massachusetts.Is this mostly a Catholic thing, or what?

  7. Bronze Dog says:

    I’m from Texas, and I’m weirded out.

  8. Akusai says:

    I was made to do the ash thing as a kid. Damn growing up Catholic in middle America. It was always extremely annoying, and I never understood why I couldn’t just wipe it off after church was done. These days, I, like you, probably wouldn’t even have realized why people had shit on their heads. I didn’t realize it was Ash Wednesday until I read your post. Then there’s Palm Sunday, where people at the parish I grew up in would carry fucking palm fronds around all fucking day. My mom used to fold them into crosses and wear them on her clothes. Fuck.

  9. GDad says:

    I’ve only seen the ash on Catholics. I was raised sort-of Methodist, but I went to a Catholic high school, so I saw a lot of it.

  10. quantumberry says:

    You might be less scornful of this kind of thing if you let symbols be symbols.Suppose this weren’t a religious tradition, but something you read in a work of literature. A young man is cleaning up after a fire burns through a palm grove. He gets smudged with the ashes in the form of a cross. You would say to yourself, hmm, interesting imagery. Palm leaves, being evergreen, are a symbol of life and even immortality. But now they are dead and burned to ashes. And the cross is a symbol of suffering and death. This must be a forshadowing of the fact that the young man, being human and mortal, will suffer and will die.

  11. Doubting Tom says:

    I’ve only seen the ash on Catholics.My embarrassing experiences have been with Catholics and Lutherans, so it’s not just a Catholic thing, though it appears to be rather limited. QB: You might be less scornful of this kind of thing if you let symbols be symbols.Again, I really, honestly mean no scorn here–well, I am a little scornful that the one year I was actually prepared, I only saw one person (and not someone I would have not-helpfully informed about their forehead cleanliness) practicing, but that’s self-scorn. I simply never recall the significance of the day (or the ashes) until it’s too late. As I said, it’s not even necessarily because of my atheism; I don’t remember my church celebrating the day as a kid, though it may have. If anything, putting some thought into my lack of belief–and how that separates me from the majority in other ways–has made me want to be more cautious and less divisive about it. More than that, I can even understand some of the rationale. I mean, the other subculture I largely identify with is full of people who dress up as their favorite characters on days of arbitrarily-chosen significance. Your literary analogy is good, but (for me, anyway) superfluous. The Catholics and Lutherans and other ash-wearers are cosplaying. That, I understand. Sure, there’s more significance attached to it (then again, some cosplayers get pretty into it), but the underlying idea is similar, if not the same. I’ve learned three things from this post and thread: First, the Ash Wednesday phenomenon is not as common as my experience has suggested. Second, I cannot for the life of me remember the story behind the practice (though I remember Palm Sunday pretty well–and I remember my church celebrating that one). Third, I like the way the Ash Williams Wednesday thing came together so much that I just might do my own cosplaying next year. If nothing else, there’s no way I’d forget!

  12. quantumberry says:

    I cannot for the life of me remember the story behind the practiceThere is really no story,like the Palm Sunday story (and thus no cosplaying?) Ash Wednesday really is about turning your life around, ’cause you’re gonna die, and what kind of legacy is this to leave, anyway? (Not you personally, of course. You as in one.)

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