5 Ways to Balance Out Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day
For the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day are falling together on the same day. This may be a cause for panic among those who were looking forward to getting chocolate boxes, cards and flowers but will have to swap them out for abstinence, ashes and almsgiving. Or, for those who wish to uphold the first day of Lent yet are being bombarded by love-struck couples, sweet love-songs and cheesy Valentine’s Day-themed products at every corner, it sounds like a nightmare.
To fast or feast … sounds like the greatest conflict of interest of all time, doesn’t it? Not necessarily. You can still enjoy February 14 without making a fuss (well, too much of a fuss), and we at The Southern Cross have put together some reminders to help you put your mind at ease when Wednesday arrives:
1. Don’t panic.
And we mean it – there’s absolutely no reason why you should panic. Just because Ash Wednesday coincides with the most romantic day of the year, that doesn’t mean that you should place yourself in a non-existent moral dilemma. Yes, there are certain things that you should try to abstain from for the next five weeks, but you should take this opportunity to try and connect the two events, celebrating some aspects of each one without compromising their key themes.
2. Put the aspects of Valentine’s Day into perspective.
February 14 is the designated day of the year to celebrate romantic, familial and platonic love. It’s named after St Valentine, a third century-Catholic priest who believed in the importance of love – when Roman Emperor Claudius II passed a law that prevented his soldiers from marrying because he believed that they should only be devoted to Rome’s cause, St Valentine officiated their marriage ceremonies in secret. When he was found out and jailed, he also cared for his fellow prisoners and his jailer’s blind daughter.
Indeed, one should follow St Valentine’s example. Love is a virtue that ought to be celebrated rather than hindered. But rather confining gestures of love to one single day, they should actually be practised daily. Jesus tells us to “let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3: 21), so we should heed his words. Strive to show love not only to your significant other, your friends and your family, but also to your neighbour, to the less fortunate folk who have never before been shown care and affection, and – equally important – to yourself.
Sharing the gift of love every day is rewarding. That is the underlying message of Valentine’s Day, and it is up to us to carry that message through the remainder of our days.
3. Put the aspects of Ash Wednesday (and Lent) into perspective, too.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, when we observe fasting and prayer over a 40-day period until Easter. It draws its name from the practice of having ash rubbed on one’s forehead in the shape of a cross. The ashes, which are made from palm branches burned from the previous year’s Palm Sunday mass, symbolise the dust from which God made us. They are also symbolic of grief caused by our sinning that has caused us to distance ourselves from God. Catholics, non-Catholics and the excommunicated are invited to receive the ashes as a sign of penance.
Lent is a period that is symbolic of Christ’s struggle for us, as well as his dying on the cross out of love for us. Ash Wednesday is a solemn reminder of these acts, and in turn we remember our sinfulness and realise our need to repent. We take to fasting – giving up luxuries such as chocolates, alcohol and cigarettes among others – and reflection upon our actions, but often we forget that Lent is not only a time to give something up. It’s also about taking something on. In other words, you should also make Lent a time to push yourselves to do something good and positive that could benefit someone else. Developing healthy habits and practices that could improve others’ lives is just as rewarding as (if not a form of) sharing the gift of love.
4. Don’t separate – celebrate!
By taking these aspects into perspective, you should be able to connect these two events. This means that you could participate in activities that observes both the values of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. For example, instead of a romantic dinner, get together with your loved ones to cook meals for disadvantaged people who can’t afford food. Share Lenten devotionals based the theme of God’s love with those who are close to you or with members of community that you would like to get to know. Or, if a loved one fears that they will stumble early during their Lenten journey, be sure to let them know that you are there to support and care for them from the first day to the last. Truly, the possibilities are endless so long as you keep these aspects in mind.
5. At least we have Shrove Tuesday.
If you’re really worrying about missing out on the joys of Valentine’s Day, you could always indulge the day before on Shrove Tuesday. In the Middle Ages, you were not allowed to eat meats, fats, eggs, milk and fish during Lent. To keep these foods from being wasted or spoiled over the next forty days, families would have big feasts on Shrove Tuesday in order to consume those items. In contemporary times, we celebrate Shrove Tuesday by eating pancakes, a tradition that’s drawn from the English custom of using up all the fattiest ingredients in the house before Lent, that being milk and eggs. One simply had to combine flour with these ingredients to make a pancakes feast, a sort of last hurrah before beginning to fast.
Celebrate with your loved ones by throwing a pancake breakfast – if you have the right mold, you can even make heart-shaped pancakes. You could also hold a pancake race fundraiser, the proceeds of which you can donate to a charity that’s close to your heart.