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Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day happen to share a date this year

As people celebrate their love, it's also the first day of Lent, which could affect how people mark the occasion.
Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day happen to share a date this year
Posted at 11:59 AM, Feb 14, 2024

Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day this year.

As partners gather in honor of love, it’s also the first day of Lent, which could affect how people celebrate.

Here’s what to know: 

What is Ash Wednesday?

In Western Christianity, Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, which is a time for fasting and reflection. Every year, Ash Wednesday is celebrated six and a half weeks prior to Easter Sunday — which falls on March 31 this year. The day just so happens to coincide with Valentine’s Day this year. 

The date of Easter is based on a calculation involving the moon, according to The Associated Press.

“Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, which is the first full moon occurring either on or after the spring equinox (March 21). ... To find the date for Ash Wednesday, we go back six weeks which leads to the First Sunday of Lent and four days before that is Ash Wednesday,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says, according to AP. 

What happens on Ash Wednesday

Christians who celebrate will usually attend a church service where a priest will draw the shape of a cross on their foreheads. The ashes are representative of human mortality. 

How does Ash Wednesday affect those celebrating Valentine's Day?

Ash Wednesday marks a time for fasting and abstinence from meat, representative of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert and resisting temptation. Some Christians will stick to one simple meal for the day. During the period of Lent, some observers will not eat meat on Fridays and give up a food group for the entire 40 days.

Valentine’s Day is in some ways the opposite. In addition to sweets and chocolates, people often mark the holiday with a nice meal. The feast of St. Valentine is often a time to indulge.

Catholic Bishop Richard Henning of Providence, Rhode Island, notes that Ash Wednesday is of far more importance and should be prioritized.

“Ash Wednesday is the much higher value and deserves the full measure of our devotion,” he said in the diocese’s official newspaper, according to AP. “I ask with all respect that we maintain the unique importance of Ash Wednesday.” 

Who was St. Valentine?

The history of St. Valentine is a little foggy, but the holiday originally began as a feast day for a third-century Christian martyr, and not exactly as a day of love, according to AP. 

The Roman martyr was killed while preaching on Feb. 14, 269, which is where the date comes from, according to Walks of Italy.

Much later, an unrelated poet in the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer, connected Valentine’s Day and love in one of his poems, Walks of Italy says. The correlation was not rooted in anything, but Chaucer chalked it up to his poetic license.

From there, real-life lovers began to send each other love poems on Feb. 14, and the holiday evolved into what it is today. 

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