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Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, and Lent gives Christians an opportunity to spiritually prepare for Easter. The name of this holiday comes from the ritual of receiving a cross drawn from ashes on the forehead. When a religious leader draws the cross, he also recites a traditional phrase. This practice originated in the Catholic Church, and some other Christian denominations also practice it today.
Because of the importance of Ash Wednesday, churches get crowded. In fact, one church in Detroit started sending priests out to busy street corners to cater to people who might be too busy to make it to services or reluctant to brave the crowds. If you would rather experience this ritual in a traditional setting, you might still avoid large crowds if you can time it right.
Most churches offer a liturgy and ashes early in the morning, mass during the day, and then resume liturgy and ashes a few times in the evening. Some have liturgy and ashes scheduled all through the day. Your best choice might depend upon your own church's schedule, but typically the very early morning services, which might start at 6:30 A.M., are less crowded. The last service of the evening also presents a good opportunity to avoid crowds as most families attend earlier services.