Valentine's Day is a day for romantic dinners and sentimental gifts. By contrast, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and is a day of fasting, self-sacrifice, and repentance. In 2024, these two very different February holidays fall on the same date, Wednesday the 14th, for the first time since 2018. So what are the faithful to do?
While St. Valentine remains the patron saint of lovers, the feast day in his honor is no longer on the Catholic Church's calendar, and the origin of Valentine's Day traditions today largely evolved from secular medieval celebrations. Moreover, for those of the Catholic faith, Ash Wednesday requires abstaining from meat and fasting (in this case, that's eating only one normal-size meal a day, as well as two small meals that together don't make a meal).
Recently, one Catholic mother and Reddit user was curious how fellow members of her faith were balancing the two celebrations this year, so she started a thread on the Subreddit R/Catholicism asking, "How are you handling Valentine's Day + Ash Wednesday within your family?"
The answers were pretty fascinating. Catholic Reddit users weighing in on the question overwhelmingly said that they were observing Ash Wednesday, but their approaches to celebrating Valentine's Day varied depending on their circumstances. Here are the most common answers:
Combine Valentine's Day with Fat Tuesday.
Fat Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday, is the day before Ash Wednesday. Being the last hurrah before Lent, it seems like a prime candidate for Valentine's Day celebrations. As one Reddit user observed, “It's already a day renowned for partying and overindulgence.”
The original poster also fell into this camp: "We are basically going to move our Valentine's traditions to Shrove Tuesday. We usually do pancakes for dinner, but I'll probably do them heart-shaped and maybe dye them pink to make it extra special." (Pancakes are a Shrove Tuesday tradition from the days when animal products like milk, eggs, and butter were off-limits during Lent.) She also said she planned to serve heart-shaped sandwiches for the kids' lunch and to DIY Valentine's Day cards for her husband and kids on the 13th.
Or choose another day to celebrate Valentine's Day.
Many were also in favor of celebrating Valentine's Day the weekend before, the weekend after… or literally any day other than Ash Wednesday on February 14:
“We had Valentines dinner last night, February 7! As a bonus, it was easier to make reservations since it’s just a normal weeknight for most folks.”
“We’re doing a ‘Valentine’s Day’ date this weekend however indulging in chocolates and treats will take us up to Fat Tuesday while we try to clear the house for Lent.”
“Catholic or not, since Valentine’s Day awkwardly falls in the middle of the week this year, I suspect many people will celebrate either the weekend before OR weekend after.”
“Husband and I never go out on Valentine’s Day. We'll go out at some point between now and Easter and call it good.”
Forgo Valentine's Day for Galentine's Day.
If you're not currently coupled, a Galentine or “pal”entine celebration with friends on February 13 is perfectly timed. Said one Reddit user: “I am a widow, and will be having a dinner for a few sister widows, and other single ladies, on the 13th. And the 14th will be a normal Ash Wednesday.”
Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday can indeed be celebrated together.
“Would it be bad to go to dinner after Mass for a modest meal with no meat?” asked one Reddit user on the thread.
We did the research: This is completely okay, according to Father Dustin Dought, executive director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), in comments shared with the Catholic news outlet CNA: “We say we can have one normal-sized meal. So if a couple, say, were to have that meal in the evening, I think there’s something beautiful about, ‘Oh, I’m having a small breakfast or a small lunch; I’m eating in very small portions throughout my day out of love for God, but also because my beloved and I will enjoy our normal-sized meal together.’”
We found quite a few Reddit users on board with this humble approach to Valentine's Day on Ash Wednesday:
“Going to church on Valentine’s. Husband will probably get me flowers, then we will cook dinner together, and maybe watch a movie at home.”
“Often Valentine's day is about indulgence and love through gifts and money. Now we get a chance to explore love through growing closer to Christ. Love through sacrifice and selflessness. I think it's going to be a great day for love. But the side of love we don't see enough of.”
Additionally, Valentine's Day on Ash Wednesday, according to Dought, is an opportunity to do penance “not only as individuals, but in communion with others” and to express love through charity on Valentine's Day in the tradition of Ash Wednesday almsgiving. Some Reddit users had that perspective too:
“You could try to combine Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day in a way, if you chose to focus on sacrificial love and acts of mercy. For example, (and this may be especially good if you have kids) making cards for a local nursing home, picking up flowers for a sick or bed bound friend, etc.”
There's some wiggle room with kids.
Young children in the Catholic church are not obligated to fast or abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday. Still, we saw a variety of approaches from Reddit commenters, ranging from moving Valentine's Day family celebrations to Fat Tuesday to parents who said they'd let the little ones have the holiday. And, oh dear, that poor schoolteacher in the last comment:
“Our little gift for them is typically a sweet and themed pajamas, so it actually almost works better to do a ‘Valentine’ s Eve.’ … My 4 year old is in preschool so I'll send her with class Valentines that day.”
“We have young children and, really, we only do Valentine’s things for them. Because they are so young (under 5) we will let them have their little gifts and sweets. My husband and I have never really done anything for Valentine’s Day.”
“I am a teacher. Valentines Day is a big deal to kindergarteners and I will be pelted with chocolate and candy that morning for sure. … I plan to suffer through the school day avoiding all the temptations but also making it a special day for the kids while then leaving promptly after dismissal and going to mass at either 4 or 6pm. Pray my strength.”
Valentine's Day? That's still a thing?
Some folks just are not in that into Valentine's Day, whether it's because they're single or busy parents, or they just never saw the point.
“Single guy. Usually forget Valentine's Day is a thing until reminded day of by a coworker talking about plans with their spouse and I get really depressed for a minute or two. So yeah, Ash Wednesday takes precedence either way lol.”
“I'm going to work with a bag of cashews for lunch and doing an Arby's fish sandwich and fries for dinner.”
“I don’t do anything for Valentine’s Day except eating various themed treats in February. So, obviously, I will not be doing that on Ash Wednesday.”
“Hubby and I have never recognized Valentine’s Day as anything beyond a regular calendar day.”
“Married, newborn. We will do…something.” (That, we can relate to!)
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