An American churchgoer has doctored Ellen DeGeneres' popular Oscar selfie to spread the word about Ash Wednesday.
Mark Alves, a marketing manager from Virginia, in the US, added ash crosses to the Hollywood stars' foreheads and included the hashtag #ashtag. The ash symbol is part of a religious tradition in which Christians daub a cross on their foreheads to mark the beginning of Lent, which starts today. Last year, Alves used the same hashtag and posted a picture of himself, but it didn't catch on, so this year he adapted his plan. "I saw Ellen's selfie go viral after the Academy Awards, and I thought it would be perfect," he says. DeGeneres posted the original image on Sunday night during the Oscar ceremony, and it quickly became the most popular tweet of all time.
Alves' adaptation is part of a wider campaign to promote the message on a range of social networks, and it appears to be working. The hashtag has been used over 3,000 times on Twitter in the last 24 hours. The Church of England also posted a tweet asking its followers to post selfies, and use the tag. Reverend Ruth Patten in Essex, tweeted a picture of herself painted with the cross. "It's the first selfie I've ever posted," she says. "Its a sign that you are turning towards Lent, and thinking about the final days of Jesus' life."
Reverend John Challis from West Sussex posted a similar shot. He thinks the day is usually overshadowed in the media by Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day. "Come Ash Wednesday, it all goes quiet," he says, and sees the hashtag as a way to draw renewed attention to the occasion.
The crosses are made from a mix of ashes - often from burnt palm leaves - and holy water, and signify the worshipper's repentance before God. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a period of 40 days in which when many Christians attempt to fast, or break a bad habit.
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