Ash Wednesday is observed on March 5, 2014, the beginning of the 40 days of Lent. Christians around the world begin their own fast or sacrifice as a means of spiritual renewal and reflect upon Christ's sacrifice on the cross for our sins. Millions of people celebrate Lent by giving up certain foods or activities, it's a practice with a rich history among many Christian traditions.
Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the believers as a sign of repentance. A pastor, priest or deacon marks the forehead of each participant with black ashes in the shape of a cross, which the worshipper traditionally retains until washing it off after sundown.
In the Roman Catholic church, Ash Wednesday is observed by fasting, repentance, as well as give up something they enjoy like chocolate, fast food or watching TV. Other Christian denominations make fasting optional, with the main focus being on repentance.
While Catholic always receive the ashes inside a church, some churches offer "ashes to go" in a street corner to give busy people another option to receive ashes.
According to a new survey by Barna Group, among those who plan to celebrate Lent this year, the most common abstentions for Americans include food or drink, such as chocolate (30%), meat (28%), sugar (28%), soda drinks (26%), alcohol (24%), fruit (14%) and butter or cream (11%). Other people who fast for Lent are planning to abstain from technology or entertainment. This includes curtailing use of social networks (16%), smartphones (13%), television (11%), video games (10%), movies (9%) and the Internet (9%). Activities that were mentioned by fewer than 2% of respondents include sex, smoking and swearing.