Valentine’s Day 2024 falls on Ash Wednesday. What it means for romance and dinner. (2024)

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018.

Ash Wednesday means cinder crosses marked on foreheads, a time for reflection and the start of Lent, a period of more than 40 days of fasting and no meat on Fridays leading up to Easter.

But this year, it also means red and pink greeting cards, rose bouquets, chocolate-covered strawberries and conversation hearts. Because in 2024, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day.

The last time this convergence of holidays happened was in 2018. But the 2024 meeting of hearts and ashes doesn’t seem like such oddball calendar alignment when you consider that the two days will merge again as soon as 2029.

When heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and dinner reservations beckon, what are observant Christians to do?

Valentine’s Day 2024 falls on Ash Wednesday. What it means for romance and dinner. (1)

The Archdiocese of Newark did not issue any sort of official recommendations relating to the overlap of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, the Rev. Bismarck Chau, pastor at Saint Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral and St. John’s Church in Newark, said in 2018.

But given the differing traditions of the two occasions, being that Ash Wednesday requires fasting and Valentine’s Day usually involves some sort of festive meal or candy, he suggested a simple rearrangement of the days: Ash Wednesday stays put and Valentine’s Day goes elsewhere, by either celebrating a day early on the indulgence-friendly Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday (Feb. 13, also called Shrove Tuesday) or some other day. But those who want to avoid a conflict with Lent altogether (and would prefer not to go out on a school or work night) may have marked Cupid’s day the weekend before.

It’s not as if Christians haven’t encountered this kind of conflict before: St. Patrick’s Day celebrations often, as with this year, fall smack dab in the middle of Lent. When the holiday landed on a Friday, some dioceses made an exception, allowing the consumption of corned beef. But don’t expect the same suspension of custom for your fancy Valentine’s dinner.

“Will that be an issue of some people on Valentine’s Day? Yeah,” Chau said. But for observant Christians and Catholics, Valentine’s Day will more than likely take a back seat to Ash Wednesday, he said.

Valentine’s Day 2024 falls on Ash Wednesday. What it means for romance and dinner. (2)

Eating a steak, pork or chicken dinner on Valentine’s Day directly conflicts with the traditions of Ash Wednesday, which calls for a meatless meal. But Valentine’s Day is also the day for romance.

Is sexual activity frowned upon on Ash Wednesday?

Again, there’s no restriction specified by the Roman Catholic Church, Chau said, and married couples are not denied from “expressing love in a sexual way,” he said. (Sex outside of marriage, however, is a separate issue.)

“There are no special rules for sexual activity designated for Ash Wednesday,” said Thomas Humphries, an associate professor of philosophy, theology and religion at Saint Leo University, a Catholic liberal arts college in St. Leo, Florida. The only abstinence required, he said, is refraining from eating meat. In fact, there are no days in which the Catholic Church asks married couples to abstain from sex.

Valentine’s Day 2024 falls on Ash Wednesday. What it means for romance and dinner. (3)

When you clear away all the cards, flowers and chocolate, the ultimate theme of Valentine’s Day is romance. In its ideal form, love.

On the surface, Ash Wednesday’s penance, reflection and mourning, marking the start of Lent’s 46 days, which mirror the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, would seem to contradict this rose-colored celebration. And while history gives us various St. Valentines, St. Valentine’s Day has not been observed by Catholics in the United States since the 1960s, when the church removed the feast from its calendar, Humphries said. (The secular Valentine’s Day holiday we know today may actually owe more to the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer.)

The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are made from the burning of palms from Palm Sunday the year before. Members of the clergy distribute the ashes in the form of a cross smudged on the forehead of the observant.

“Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return,” priests tell parishioners. Outside of Easter and Christmas, the ritual is one of the most attended in the Christian calendar, Humphries said. The message: “I’m doing something different today, I’m standing apart and reflecting.”

Valentine’s Day 2024 falls on Ash Wednesday. What it means for romance and dinner. (4)

The sugar highs produced by chocolate hearts and the giving of luxe gifts like jewelry don’t exactly advance a spirit of self-reflection. But theologians and members of the clergy say that while Ash Wednesday and Lent are about self-denial, they are also about love.

“The Lenten season to me is like a renewal of love,” Chau said. “Christ dying for us for love.”

He compares Ash Wednesday and Lent to how couples celebrate the anniversary of their relationship — “a renewal of that love.”

Instead of just giving up two meals a day and sweets, many who observe Ash Wednesday and Lent choose to make a commitment to add an obligation to their routine, like regularly read scripture or attend Mass.

“What I do is I take things on,” Chau said, like a promise to volunteer. “It’s harder for me to do that than give up chocolate. I don’t eat chocolate anyway.”

As for giving up the kind of heavy, indulgent meals and desserts associated with Valentine’s Day?

“I wouldn’t say that love and fasting are opposed,” Humphries said (clearly, others might disagree).

Valentine’s Day 2024 falls on Ash Wednesday. What it means for romance and dinner. (5)

“I’m not sure that Valentine’s Day means one thing in the United States and that’s part of the problem,” said James Buckley, professor of theology at Loyola University Maryland, a Jesuit liberal arts college.

“The problem would be for Catholics who are also practicing the ashes if the incoherent ideas of Valentine’s Day start trumping Ash Wednesday,” he said.

Humphries said a useful distinction to make is the one between youthful romance and mature love.

“For the high schooler, Valentine’s Day is all about this giddy romance and chocolate,” he said. “I would hope that shortly after you turn 19, 20, your idea of romance is much broader than that.” Sacrificing for a loved one, for instance, would qualify as a more consequential form of affection.

“That kind of romance is continent with Ash Wednesday,” he said. “That part of it would actually make a better Valentine’s Day even when Ash Wednesday doesn’t fall on Valentine’s Day.”

Valentine’s Day 2024 falls on Ash Wednesday. What it means for romance and dinner. (6)

Ash Wednesday is a day for Christians to ask, “How can I improve my love for others?” said Brandon Ocampo, a minister for the Newman Catholic Center, a campus ministry in Newark (Rutgers University, NJIT and Essex County College).

“We’re called to focus on, ‘what is authentic love?’” he said. “When we think about love, especially the culture’s view of love, we find that it can be very selfish. When we’re thinking about the context of Ash Wednesday, you’re giving up yourself for the other.”

This year, Feb. 14 may already seem crowded with calendar events, but priests and religious scholars know there’s yet another occasion that is usually recognized by the Catholic Church on the same day.

The feast of saints Cyril and Methodius, normally celebrated on Feb. 14, recognizes two brothers who translated the liturgy into the Cyrillic alphabet in the late ninth century.

But as with Valentine’s Day, Catholics rearrange their calendars for this observance. Chau said that because Ash Wednesday takes precedence, this feast would also be bumped from Feb. 14.

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Valentine’s Day 2024 falls on Ash Wednesday. What it means for romance and dinner. (2024)

FAQs

What is the message of Valentine's day and Ash Wednesday? ›

Notice how the ashes imposed on us are shaped as cross because Ash Wednesday assures us that we die in the love of Jesus Christ our Savior who leads us into eternal life. Meanwhile, Valentine's reminds us of our undying love for those bonds of love we make throughout our lives as lovers, friends, and admirers.

What happens when Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine's day? ›

But given the differing traditions of the two occasions, being that Ash Wednesday requires fasting and Valentine's Day usually involves some sort of festive meal or candy, he suggested a simple rearrangement of the days: Ash Wednesday stays put and Valentine's Day goes elsewhere, by either celebrating a day early on ...

What is the meaning of Ash Wednesday 2024? ›

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent and lasts about six weeks. Believers are meant to observe that period of time with self-sacrifice, prayer and other religious activities leading up to Easter, the day believed to be when Jesus Christ rose from the dead to sit at the right hand of God.

How do you celebrate Valentine's day on Ash Wednesday? ›

With both days coinciding, many churches and couples are getting creative. “Come Ash Wednesday, we're going to get our ashes, then after for our date night, I think we're gonna keep it simple. Maybe a simple no-meat dinner, pasta with shrimp,” Fraga-Zacarias said.

Should Catholics celebrate Valentine's day on Ash Wednesday? ›

For Catholics Ash Wednesday takes precedence over Valentine's day, meaning that you are expected to observe the Ash Wednesday fast even on Valentine's day. So to the extent that you can celebrate Valentine's day without forfeiting your Ash Wednesday obligations you can practice both.

What does Valentine's day mean in the Bible? ›

Biblical meaning of Valentine's Day. The word “valentine” comes from the Latin word “valens", which means “worthy, strong, or powerful". In the Bible, the word “valentine” is used about God's love for us. He is the ultimate Valentine who loved us so much that He gave His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins.

What are the rules for Ash Wednesday 2024? ›

On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, fasting rules allow Catholics to eat only one full meal and two smaller meals which, combined, would not equal a single normal meal. Additionally, Catholics may not eat meat on these two days–or on any Friday during Lent.

What foods are not allowed on Ash Wednesday? ›

Also, on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays during Lent, adult Catholics over the age of 14 abstain from eating meat. During these days, it is not acceptable to eat lamb, chicken, beef, pork, ham, deer and most other meats. However, eggs, milk, fish, grains, and fruits and vegetables are all allowed.

How often does Valentine's fall on Ash Wednesday? ›

Before 2018, it had been a minute before Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day fell on the same day; since 1945, according to USA Today. Before that, the two dates aligned in 1923 and 1934. And it will happen again relatively soon, when in 2029, and, Easter will fall on April Fools' Day again on that year.

Is Valentine's day on Ash Wednesday in 2024? ›

In 2024, Feb. 14 is a holiday heavyweight due to a calendar collision of events — it's Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday.

Can you eat meat on Ash Wednesday 2024? ›

No. Catholics are not supposed to eat meat on Ash Wednesday.

What does Ash Wednesday symbolize? ›

Ash Wednesday is a solemn reminder of human mortality and the need for reconciliation with God and marks the beginning of the penitential Lenten season. It is commonly observed with the distribution of ashes and with fasting.

Will there be a dispensation on Ash Wednesday 2024? ›

As the holy season of Lent quickly approaches, it has been noted that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine's Day. There will not be a dispensation for Ash Wednesday which is the beginning of the Lenten season - one of the holiest seasons in the Catholic tradition.

Can Catholics eat meat on Ash Wednesday if it's Valentine's day? ›

Ash Wednesday has fallen on Valentine's Day before, most recently in 2018. While Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation — one on which Catholics are expected to attend Mass — it is when the faithful receive ashes on their head in the shape of a cross. They also eat only one full meal and abstain from meat.

When did Ash Wednesday fall on Valentine's day? ›

Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day fall on the same day this year, Wednesday, Feb. 14 – a day of indulgence meeting a day of abstaining. The last time this happened was in 2018, according to several outlets citing Live Wire. Last century, the two holidays fell on the same day in 1923, 1934 and 1945.

When Ash Wednesday meets Valentine's day? ›

Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day fall on the same day this year, Wednesday, Feb. 14 – a day of indulgence meeting a day of abstaining. The last time this happened was in 2018, according to several outlets citing Live Wire. Last century, the two holidays fell on the same day in 1923, 1934 and 1945.

Is Ash Wednesday ever on Valentines day? ›

The last time that happened was in 2018, and it will happen again in 2029. For those who consider faith an important part of their lives, the coincidence of having this Valentine's Day, a commercial holiday, on Ash Wednesday, a religious occasion, may pose a dilemma. Ash Wednesday is not a fixed day.

Was Ash Wednesday ever in February? ›

Ash Wednesday, in Western Christianity, the first day of Lent, occurring six and a half weeks before Easter (between February 4 and March 11, depending on the date of Easter).

Is Feb 22 holiday Ash Wednesday? ›

February 22, Ash Wednesday, Christianity Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the Western Christian calendar. It occurs exactly 46 days before Easter (40 fasting days not counting Sundays).

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