Navigate to News section

Note: That’s Not Schmutz

It’s just Ash Wednesday

Marc Tracy
March 09, 2011
Priest applying sacramental schmutz.(Wikipedia)

Priest applying sacramental schmutz.(Wikipedia)

You’re going to be walking around today, at work or on the street or whatever, and you’re going to see people with some schmutz on their foreheads. It will be jarring, and your first instinct, of course, will be to tell them that they have some schmutz on their foreheads; secondarily, you may regret this person is not a close family member, making it inappropriate to grab him, lick the side of your thumb, and rub that schmutz off his forehead. Even after you pass him, you’ll probably continue to think about this schmutz—so dirty! so schmutzy!—for the rest of the day, or at least for a couple more minutes. That is, until you see the next person with some schmutz on her forehead.

So here’s the thing to remember: They want the schmutz there. These people are Christians, probably mostly Catholics, observing Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent (which is sort of like their counting of the Omer) and kicks off the countdown to Easter. Of course, schmutz is still schmutz, whether the person with it wants it there or not. But this is America, and differences are to be respected. Just be glad it’s not you with some schmutz on your forehead.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.