Villagers celebrating Ash Wednesday with a "straw bear" day
According to Christian belief, Ash Wednesday marks the end of foolishness and the start of Lent or the period of fasting until Easter. Christians use the Lenten season to prepare for celebrations marking the resurrection of Christ after the crucifixion on Good Friday.
On Ash Wednesday, priests daub a cross of ashes onto the foreheads of Catholics as a sign of penance and an indication of transience. On that day and on Good Friday too, the Catholic Church calls on the faithful to forego meat and to fast. Apart from that, people are expected to make a donation of money to the needy. In the «seven weeks of going without», as Lent is known in Germany, many people try to get by without something or other - be it sweets, alcohol, watching television or playing computer games.
According to foolish lore, herring is traditionally eaten on Ash Wednesday or other customs typical of the region are used to mark the end of carnival or Fastnacht. In the north of the state of Hesse, some villages celebrate with a «straw bear day» in the Hugenot tradition. Young men are wrapped in straw and led through the village by girls. The straw is later symbolically burnt in order to drive out winter. Political parties in Germany use Ash Wednesday as a day of reckoning with the opposition. It is therefore also known as «political Ash Wednesday».
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