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Today is Ash Wednesday

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Today is Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

Carnival is celebrated in many countries at this time of year. In Iceland, the carnival season is limited to three days: bolludagur (Cream Puff Day), sprengidagur (Bursting Day) and öskudagur (Ash Wednesday).

Children dress up in fancy costumes and visit shops and companies where they sing in exchange for candy.

Originally celebrated in Catholicism as a day of repentance for your sins, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and is celebrated seven weeks before Easter

According to the University of Iceland’s Science Web, ash stands for the fleeting and the unworthy in the Bible, but is also said to have a wholesome and refreshing quality. On Ash Wednesday, in some countries, it’s spread over the heads of churchgoers or smeared on their foreheads in order to wipe away their sins.

In Iceland, children used celebrate the day by pinning tiny, colorful bags filled with ash on the backs of the coats of adults. In some schools in Iceland, children make such bags in handicraft classes in preparation for this day.

Ash Day in its current form was first celebrated in Akureyri, North Iceland, in the early 20th century, but since then the tradition has spread to other parts of the country.

Akureyri remains Iceland’s unofficial Ash Day capital. There, a piñata is hoisted in the town square and children takes turns ‘beating the cat out of the barrel,’ as it is called.

On Ash Day children wake up early to get ready and head downtown—as soon as the stores open.

Then there is relentless singing until the bags have been filled with candy or until shopkeepers put up a sing in the window , telling them there’s no more candy in the store.

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