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Valentine's Day And Ash Wednesday: A Rare Calendar Alignment And Its Significance Explained

The rare alignment of Valentine's Day with Ash Wednesday this year sparks intrigue, blending the celebration of love with a solemn day of introspection and penitence.

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Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday 2024 Photo: Pexels
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February 14 carries significant weight this year due to a rare alignment of events on the calendar. On one hand, it's Valentine's Day — a well-known occasion for celebrating love and friendship with couples exchanging gifts and critics deriding it for its commercialization. On the other, it's also Ash Wednesday, a solemn day of fasting and introspection that signals the start of Christianity’s most penitent season.

Why Is Ash Wednesday On Valentine’s Day This Year?

The reason Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine's Day this year is because Ash Wednesday is not a set date; its timing is determined by Easter Sunday. For many Christians, Easter falls on March 31st this year.

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Easter, too, shifts each year, alternating between March 22 and April 25 due to a calendar calculation that incorporates the phases of the moon.

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “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.”

This year, February 14 aligns with that calculation.

What Happens on Ash Wednesday?

On Ash Wednesday, not all Christians participate, but for those who do, they usually attend a church service where a priest or minister marks a cross of ashes on their foreheads, symbolizing human mortality and other significant themes.

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For Catholics, Ash Wednesday is a obligatory day of fasting and abstinence. The abstinence rules continue on Fridays throughout Lent, a period of repentance and penance leading up to Holy Week, highlighting their belief in Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.

Where do the Ashes come from?

Usually, the ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from the palms blessed on Palm Sunday, which occurs one week before Easter, as stated by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

While ashes can be bought, many churches opt to create their own by burning the previous year's palm branches.

Can Catholics celebrate Valentine's Day on Ash Wednesday?

For Catholics, the Feast of St. Valentine (or Valentine's Day) coincides with Ash Wednesday on February 14. However, Ash Wednesday takes precedence with its fasting and abstinence requirements, emphasized Catholic Bishop Richard Henning of Providence, Rhode Island, in the diocese's official newspaper. His predecessor conveyed a similar sentiment in 2018.

Bishop Henning emphasized, “Ash Wednesday is the much higher value and deserves the full measure of our devotion. I ask with all respect that we maintain the unique importance of Ash Wednesday. If you would like to wine and dine your Valentine, please do so on the Tuesday before. February 13 is Mardi Gras, ‘Fat Tuesday,’ a perfect day to feast and celebrate!”

Who was St. Valentine?

The origins of Valentine's Day and the identity of St. Valentine are somewhat unclear, but initially, the holiday commemorated a third-century Christian martyr, as described by Lisa Bitel, a professor of history and religion at the University of Southern California.

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In the Conversation, her article titled, “ The ‘real’ St. Valentine was no patron of love,” Bitel suggests that there might have been multiple individuals named St. Valentine who were martyred for their faith during the same period. However, historical evidence indicates that none of them were associated with romantic love; the romantic connotations of Valentine's Day likely evolved later.

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