A rare occurrence on the calendar has fallen today. Both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day are upon us and with it a clash of principles; should people begin Lent or indulge in the trappings and fancies of indulgence that often go hand in hand with the day for lovers? Or is there perhaps a way to combine the two?
Ash Wednesday comes from the Jewish tradition of fasting and penance; it has been adopted by the Catholic liturgical calendar, and is observed by many Christians of other denominations as the beginning of lent… usually accompanied by making small personal sacrifices. In fact, it is widely celebrated around the world by various Christian groups including Anglicans and Protestants.
Valentine’s Day is also a Christian celebration named after two saints named Valentinus, and has been part of the religious calendar since the 14th Century. Originally celebrated as a holiday honoring “courtly love” as described by Geoffrey Chaucer, it grew to prominence in the 18th Century as a time to express love (and started the inexorable rise to commercialism).
Are the two celebrations exact opposites? Is it possible to celebrate both or are celebrants left with an either-or choice?
The answer is (as often is in religious circumstance) to look at the core values behind the ideals. We can make sacrifices of ourselves whilst still honoring those we love if we attempt to remove the commercial element.
For example, flowers are fairly traditional (at least six hundred years of tradition behind them), but nobody says you must buy the flowers from a vendor. Make the sacrifice of your time to head out and pick flowers that will mean something to your paramour. It is not only more personal, but has genuine feeling behind the choices and arrangements. Don’t believe the propaganda; men like receiving gifts that are thoughtful and show personal consideration. That includes flowers.
Instead of choosing things to give up for Lent individually, choose things together. What could be more romantic than taking on a struggle and a sacrifice hand in hand with the one closest to you? It expresses a commitment and a devotion to not only honoring God, but your partner, too!
As with any relationship with God, it is personal. And isn’t this how we deal with our more corporeal relationships? Don’t make one Holy holiday about commercialism and the other about religion, make them both personal, sacrifice things together; honor each other and God with a devotion that doesn’t need to involve using your credit card.
When we get back to the roots of celebration, everything becomes personal. The coming together of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day is not a conflict after all; it is an opportunity to reignite the most important relationships in our lives.