Ash Wednesday, when members of the clergy smear ashes in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of the faithful as a sacred reminder that all humans are made of dust and shall return to dust, is probably the most tactile of Christian observances.

In many churches, it’s also the most well-attended service, with Ash Wednesday marking the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, when Christians emulate Jesus Christ’s 40-day fast in the wilderness before he began his public ministry. It’s a time of reflection, prayer and charity.