It hasn’t happened in 73 years. It was in 1945 – as the Second World War was drawing to a close - that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day last fell on the same date.
This year, it’s created a dilemma for many Christians and a predicament for clergy and the faithful. And it’s likely caused much unease among flower shops, restaurants and jewelry stores – and the romantic - around the Island.
What is causing so much angst between things spiritual and temporal?
Ash Wednesday is the start of the Lenten season for Christians, many of whom are required to attend church services, receive ashes, abstain from meat and fast today. For the next 40 days, until Easter Sunday on April 1, many of the devout will maintain a fast or give up something for Lent.
Christians are being called to observe signs of humility and repentance, while denying the temptations of the material world. Ash Wednesday is one of two days remaining on the church calendar that requires fast and abstinence; the other is Good Friday.
Easter is early this year, pushing Ash Wednesday into mid-February. It’s just bad timing that in 2018, Valentine’s Day falls on the same day. Today’s it’s time to hold the ribeye steaks and pass the battered haddock. And reserve love for Jesus.
It doesn’t augur well for those who usually indulge themselves on Valentine’s Day, when romantic dinners feature the mainstays of steak, champagne or fine wines, chocolates and romantic gifts. Those are exactly the kind of indulgences that Lenten observers are asked to avoid on Ash Wednesday.
The earliest day that Easter can occur is March 22 because the most important date on the church calendar is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. It’s a simple formula for establishing Easter but consider how rare it is for the Resurrection to be celebrated on that March 22 date. In 1818, the Paschal Full Moon occurred Saturday, March 21 (the equinox). Therefore, the following day, March 22, was Easter. It will not fall as early again until 2285, a span of 467 years.
A recent online survey of Canadians currently in a relationship found that four-in-five call Valentine’s Day “just a commercial enterprise,” while three-in-five say it is “a waste of time and money.” Good news for church attendance? Yet, 75 per cent of those surveyed still plan to do something special to celebrate Valentine’s Day. A third will go out to dinner, a quarter will cook a special meal at home and include intimacy in their celebration. Bad news for filling church pews?
Island clergy urged their flocks to celebrate Valentine’s Day a little earlier this year. Ash Wednesday can’t be moved, but Valentine's Day celebrations can. Shrove Tuesday likely saw extra celebrations around the province. Morning pancakes gave way to romantic evening meals as Islanders took their direction from Mardi Gras festivals in New Orleans or Rio to whoop it up Tuesday night. Many quick-thinking Islanders took advantage of last weekend to dine out and thus avoid any tough decisions today.
Clergy told members of their flock that Ash Wednesday duties take precedence over Valentine’s Day celebrations. It doesn’t matter that the day of love is named for a third-century saint who was martyred for performing Christian marriages.
Love is really at the heart of both days. Christians believe that humans are capable of love only because God first loved them. The church is asking Christians to focus on the reason Christ died for them. It is the ultimate love story.