Secular, sacred collide as Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday

Secular, sacred collide as Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday

A quirk in the calendar poses a question area Catholics and other Christians who observe Ash Wednesday haven’t had to answer in 73 years.

To fast or not to fast on Valentine’s Day?

For the first time since 1945, the mostly secular holiday when affairs of the heart are often celebrated with indulgent dinners and boxes of sweets clashes with the wholly sacred start of the Lenten season, a day of required fasting and abstinence for the faithful.

While Wednesday is referred to in some circles as the “Feast of St. Valentine,” the Diocese of Scranton said the observation of Ash Wednesday takes precedence as the solemn beginning of a 40-day period of prayer, penance and works of charity leading up to the celebration of Easter — on April Fools’ Day.

“In view of the significance of Ash Wednesday, the obligations of fast and abstinence are naturally the priority in the Catholic community,” the diocese said. “Valentine’s Day can appropriately be celebrated on another day while Ash Wednesday retains its appropriate significance as a holy day.”

The Rev. Rebecca A. Barnes, priest in charge at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Wyoming Avenue, said she delivered much the same message to her parishioners in reminding them Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting.

“I kind of lightheartedly told my folks to take your beloved to dinner on Monday and then come to our Shrove Tuesday pancake supper on Tuesday,” Barnes said.

For Roman Catholics, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, which is March 30, are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence, while Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence.

Under church rules, all Catholics who are 14 and older are bound to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, all Fridays in Lent and Good Friday. Those between 18 and 59 must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday by taking only one full meal and two smaller meals.

The confluence of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday may prove to be a boon for some local restaurants.

At Cooper’s Seafood House, 701 N. Washington Ave., co-owner Jack Cooper called it a “perfect storm,” saying he anticipates the family’s restaurant will be “really busy.”

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Cooper asked. “Having them both on the same day is kind of ironic, but we are looking forward to it.”

Trish Dickert-Nieves, manager at Terra Preta Prime, 301 N. Washington Ave., said the restaurant hosted what seemed to be an usually large number of couples last weekend.

“I assumed they were celebrating Valentine’s Day on Friday and Saturday instead of coming out on Wednesday,” she said.

At the same time, while there are still tables available, Terra Preta Prime does have a full reservation list for Valentine’s Day, when its menu will include special vegetarian and seafood items as well as steakhouse options, she said.

“We were really thoughtful in recognizing it’s not just Valentine’s Day but Ash Wednesday,” Dickert-Nieves said.

At South Side Seafood on Pittston Avenue, co-owner Carl Pazzaglia said he would prefer Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday were not on the same day, but he’s planning to be busy today and Wednesday.

“The restaurants are going to be ordering more fish than they would for Valentine’s Day. That’s what’s going to happen,” he said. “It will be a big increase — put it that way. It will be pretty crazy.”

Valentine’s Day will next fall on Ash Wednesday in 2024.