Ash Wednesday (March 5) marks 40 days until Easter Sunday, and many Christians celebrate the beginning of Lent by receiving ashes as a sign of their devotion to Jesus Christ.
"It's a sign of repentance, plain and simple," said Father John Antony with Immaculate Conception Church in Fort Smith.
The history of the ashes, according to Antony, is rooted in the Old Testament where ashes were imposed upon a person as a way for them to show God they're sorry for their sins. Today, ashes are smudged in the sign of a cross on a person's forehead as a public display of their commitment to their faith.
"Actually it's a very humbling thing because you're now being pointed out as someone who follows Christ, and sometimes we'd rather not have the limelight on us," said Antony. "It's easier to just stay behind the scenes, but the Lord asks us to be a witness to the whole world, and that's what the point is."
As part of the religious tradition, Catholics will also fast on Ash Wednesday by eating one full meal and two small meals, and they will not eat meat Wednesday or on any Friday during Lent. It is also common practice among Catholics to give up some sort of indulgence during the 40 days.
Helena Drolshagen from Fort Smith said she plans to give up ice cream during the 40 days.
"Christ gave up a lot for us," she said. "So it's like you get to experience what he did for us and give up something yourself."
Rather than give something up, some people choose to do something extra during the Lenten season like charity work or random acts of kindness. Landon Turner from Fort Smith committed to reading scripture each day through Easter Sunday.
"I know it's hard for most people to find time in their day to pray even so to find that little extra time to read the bible is probably a good way to grow closer to Christ," he said.