I’m a bit miffed that Valentine’s Day coincides with Ash Wednesday this year. Why couldn’t it have happened years ago? For most of my twenties I was one of those single people who looked forward to February 14 about as much as you look forward to passing a kidney stone. Had it coincided with the start of Lent I could at least have told myself I was ignoring the day due to piety rather than loneliness.
There is a sort of irony surrounding the fact that Ash Wednesday clashes with Valentine’s Day. After all, the Church supposedly introduced the feast as a buffer against Roman pagan celebrations. According to Butler’s Lives of the Saints, one of the ancient rituals reserved for February 15 included a local ballot where men drew women’s names for casual liaisons. This prompted “zealous pastors” to substitute ladies’ names with those of the saints or short sermons.
But today the timing of St Valentine’s Day risks posing a distraction for Catholics from prayer and repentance. Indeed, the Church’s attempt to Christianise an originally pagan time of year has come full circle when you look at the high street. In local shops and online, a significant proportion of Valentine’s cards are so crude and salacious that even Russell Brand would blush when browsing.
Once upon a time, I used to roll my eyes at ugly teddy bears in shop windows bearing giant hearts. But I’d rather receive a giant cuddly animal than a card from my husband declaring “I —-ing love you”.
The more savoury end of this year’s sentiments from some of the cards out there include “Even creepy weirdos like you need love” and “I love you like a fat kid loves cake!” The word “heart” still features heavily but, bizarrely, so does another word that rhymes with it.
So is it really a great loss for Catholics that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday? The Archdiocese of Chicago has gone as far as issuing a statement to remind parishioners that it might be Valentine’s but fasting and abstinence rules still apply. This suggests that for some Catholics, February 14 is posing a genuine dilemma.
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