The View from the Sacristy: Ashes to Ashes, We All Fall Down

February 25, 2015 Comments Off on The View from the Sacristy: Ashes to Ashes, We All Fall Down

20150218_194146 (2)Last week I wrote to you about the burning of the palms on Shrove Tuesday. I wanted to let you know what happens next!

So … the palms are burned, we come inside, we enjoy a beautiful pancake supper, and we have a leftover tub of burned palm ash. The ash that remains from the fire is nothing like the ash you see or feel on Ash Wednesday. This was something we learned after burning the palm a few times and decided one year to keep the ash to use on Ash Wednesday.  The ash in the tub has large pieces of charred, but not burned, pieces of palm … there’s also a pebble or two … and the burned, but still intact, piece of untreated cotton we used to charge the fire that remains in the bottom of the tub.  Ideally, we just want the palm ash, right? The best thing to do is let the tub sit … not for a day or two, but for months. You need to clean and sift the palm ash, and it works best if you wait until the heat is completely out of the palm detritus. (It also works best when you can do this outside on a not-very-windy day.) Palm ash is much like Christmas tree needles or beach sand or packing peanuts in that it gets everywhere, especially when you are working with it, and you find it months later stuck in the carpet. So:

  • wear gloves, maybe even a face mask
  • fish out the largest pieces of palm that did not burn
  • take out the piece of cotton
  • stir the remaining ash around and form into a pile
  • dump the pile into a clean container
  • use a colander or sifter to further clean the ash (This is when it is important to not have a breeze since the ash does have a tendency to float in any slight breeze!)

ashesWe have used different sizes of sifters to get the finest ash possible.  This can take a few hours, depending on how mush ash there is in the tub. Once you have the ash sifted, you can store it in an air-tight container for use on Ash Wednesday. (You may notice that the ash can be a nice mix of black and white particles.)

Next time round I’ll explain the transformation from regular ash to Ash Wednesday worthy ash! Stay tuned !

– Sean Scheller

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