This marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period of prayer and fasting preceding Easter Sunday. It is observed in memory of Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the desert. In the early centuries of Christianity, there were strict requirements for fasting during the period of preparation for Easter. Although these rules have been relaxed in the Western church, many Roman Catholics and Protestants choose to give up a favorite food or activity during Lent. There are many symbolic meanings to the use of ashes on this holiday. Generally, ashes symbolize death. The priest or minister's placing of ashes on one's forehead in the shape of a cross is part of the preparation for fasting and resistance to temptation by those observing Lent that ends in the symbolic renewal of life on Easter. The word Lent comes from Middle English lenten or lente, from the Old English lencten or lengten, meaning spring, the time of year when the days begin to lengthen.
Recognizing the Festival/Holiday: Before inviting someone to lunch or hosting a meal, check to see whether invitee is observing a special diet for this period.