What Foolishness of the Calendar is This?

Ash Wednesday falls on Feb. 14 and Easter is on April 1. (Photo: Thinkstock.com)

Gifts of love might look like heart-shaped boxes of chocolates or the delicate petals of a rose. But this Feb. 14 comes with another, more somber sign of devotion — a cross of ashes.

This year, the sacred and secular will kiss on Valentine’s Day, which also kicks off the Lenten season, and on April 1, when Easter and April Fool’s Day play a perhaps impractical joke on Christians.

Should devout romantics forgo decadent gifts and celebrations?

Priests say there are no real rules for how to make both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday work.

“It’s the tug of war between the sacred and the profane, the joyful and the sorrowful,” said Monsignor Donald Zimmerman of Christ the King Catholic Church.

“We think this is about full engagement of both,” said the Rev. Lisa Musser, of Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church. “While we are fully engaged in celebrating the cultural heritage of St. Valentine’s Day with our loved ones, we are equally engaged in the meaning of Ash Wednesday.”

When Christians observe Ash Wednesday, which takes place 46 days before Easter Sunday, they receive ashes in the shape of a cross on their foreheads, an outward symbol of repentance, according to catholic.org. The day begins Lent, a season of penance, reflection, and fasting meant to prepare Christians for the Easter celebration of Christ Resurrection.

[pullquote-left]“It’s the tug of war between the sacred and the profane, the joyful and the sorrowful.” -Monsignor Donald Zimmerman[/pullquote-left]

While Valentine’s Day is typically an event of happiness and perhaps even indulgence of the romantic and often chocolate kind, it can nevertheless provide a poignant backdrop to the Christian form of love, Zimmerman said. “St. Valentine calls us to … love our neighbor and Ash Wednesday calls us to mortification, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.”

Tradition holds that the roots of Valentine’s Day are found in the story of a Roman priest named Valentine. At a time when the marriage of military-age men was outlawed, Valentine, continued to perform weddings and so was imprisoned and eventually executed.

Legend holds that his last written words were to the daughter of a man who would judge his fate, in a letter signed “from your Valentine.”

Hence the tradition of sending Valentine’s cards.

Despite the dichotomy, Zimmerman said he wouldn’t interfere with the traditional celebrations of either Valentine’s Day or Ash Wednesday.

“Nah, celebrate them both,” he said with a laugh. “We have a school here and the kids get all excited about giving out Valentine’s and candy. I wouldn’t dare take that away.”