Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, a six-week period during which Christians often abstain from certain foods.
Lent commemorates the 40 days and nights Jesus spent fasting in the Judaean Desert. Ash Wednesday gets its name from early traditions when penitents and sinners would partake in a period of public penance.
During this, they were sprinkled with ashes and dressed in a sackcloth until Maundy Thursday. This practice had faded by the 10th Century, when instead members of the clergy marked crosses on the foreheads of worshippers using ashes.
The ashes come from burning palms used on Palm Sunday.
Ash Wednesday is 17 February 2021.