NYU Students Observe Ash Wednesday

A brief explanation of the religious day, and how students observe the period leading up to Easter.

A Cross of Ashes on a worshipper's forehead, a common tradition of Ash Wednesday. (via Wikimedia)

On Wednesday, you probably noticed a handful of people with black marks on their foreheads. These plus-shaped signs symbolize religious crosses, and they are made from the ashes of burned palm leaves from the Easter of the previous year. The ritual of getting ashes on your forehead is part of Ash Wednesday.

Most people are aware of Easter, but Ash Wednesday is less widely known. It marks the beginning of Lent, a Catholic practice of 40 days of penance and spiritual discipline leading up to Easter. During the 40 days, a person promises to give up certain actions or foods in order to be reminded of Jesus dying on the cross.

Steinhardt sophomore and active member at the Catholic Center Lesley Ongyaco was one of the students that got ashes on the holiday.

“I get them because it’s the easiest reminder that Lent is here,” Ongyaco said. “They represent coming from dust and going back to dust when we die, but to me, it reminds me of what I used to do as a kid and keeps me close to my roots.”

Other than receiving ashes, for many people, Lent also entails giving up something to be reminded of Jesus’ death. College students seem to have some vices that they are trying to tackle with Lent.

“Last year I gave up shopping, so I’m seeing if I can do that again,” Ongyaco said. “If I can’t keep up with it, though, I’ve come to treating Lent as a time to just be nicer to people and remember how much we have, and how much we’ve been given.”

Another Steinhardt sophomore, Bebe Howell, has a similar goal for the Lenten season.

“I’m giving up retail therapy and spending money on things I don’t need,” Howell said. “Since retail therapy is a faulty version of seeking comfort, I’m going to try to find more reliable sources of happiness.”

Other than taking a deeper look at spending patterns and materialism, productivity seems to be an area that many want to improve, such as keeping track of finances.

Nursing sophomore Stacey Kim decided to cut back on Netflix and other streaming services.

“It’s a very integral part of my daily routine when I have down time, but during Lent, I would like to better utilize the time I normally spend watching TV,” Kim said. “Additionally, every time I refrain from watching TV, I am reminded of what Lent is all about.”

As someone who was previously more religiously engaged, Kim acknowledged the struggles of balancing religion with college life.

“Now that I am in college and constantly busy and stressed, my religion has become harder to incorporate into my daily life,” Kim admits. “I hope to strengthen my faith through this experience.”

Interestingly, the concept of Lent has been adopted by some who are not Christian. CAS sophomore Ari Mayhew, clarified why he decided to give up something for Lent.

“I’m Jewish, but I know a lot of people who observe Lent,” Mayhew explained. “I don’t follow all of the parameters, but I do think it’s beneficial to give something up in order to have a period of reflection and try to improve oneself.”

Like Kim, he also is trying to cut back on something that makes him unproductive — social media. Mayhew said that he would be cutting back to using it only during his commute.

“It’ll make me more productive and hopefully be more appreciative of the now, instead of focusing on what other people are doing,” Mayhew said.

It appears people practice this holiday not with a theological motive, but more so with an intrinsic desire to step back and reevaluate what’s important.

Though the ashes are used as a tangible reminder of our mortality, most people that I spoke to did not take part in the physical act of receiving ashes. Instead, during Lent, they are more focused on refraining from certain activities in order to make their lives better. Taking the initiative to set boundaries for yourself for this Lenten season does not necessarily have to be for religious reasons. At the end of it, most people just want to become a better version of themselves.

The 40 days of Lent provides a strict but limited amount of days to give up something. There is an end in sight. Regardless of your faith, this Lent can benefit you as a time to take a deep look at your habits as well.

Email Anah Oozeerally at [email protected]

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