(the ashes are made from palms from last year's Palm Sunday)
Ash Wednesday itself is a day of fasting. For us, this means 2 small meals, one regular meal, and no snacking. Coffee, tea, juice, and water are allowed to be drank - but generally drinks like milkshakes, pop, and alcohol (other than wine at church) are avoided. We also don't eat meat on Fridays - only fish. It can be done pretty easily, but for someone who eats meat regularly (like me), it requires some planning - or I end up having PBJ for lunch.
Traditionally, the idea is to give something up for these 40 days (not including Sundays, which I think is weird). I haven't given anything up since high school - instead, I make a goal to better myself. This year, it's to work out 3 times a week and pray more.
It's also a very reserved time in the Church. We don't say "Hallelujah". Weddings and baptisms don't happen very often during Lent (because they're celebrations). Often parts of our mass that are usually accompanied by singing are now silent. Penance and reconciliation are encourage.
It's a strange time. But it's calming. And I kinda like it. It makes Easter so much sweeter.