(RNS) — This year really puts the “’til death do us part” in the holiday of love.
When Ash Wednesday — the first day of the Christian season of penance — falls on Valentine’s Day (or is it the other way around?), it’s a curious marriage of holidays most sorrowful and saccharine. As priests draw a cross in ash on foreheads with the words “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” the observant are faced with the ephemerality of life — and love.
As if Valentine devotees needed any reminding: Those roses will be dead in a week. The balloons? Deflated before then. And chocolate is but a moment on the lips before it turns to, well, you know.
Fun fact: The next time the two holidays will meet is 2029, but it’s not as common as that might lead you to believe. It won’t happen again this century. So, take advantage while you can to ponder the lessons of both. A few suggestions to help you give each holiday its due:
1. Send a card that does double duty.
The Indiana United Methodist Conference shared a candy heart on its Facebook page reminding followers not only that “U R dust,” but that you can’t spell “Valentine” without “Lent.” On Etsy, cardsmiths are sharing sweet nothings such as “There’s no fasting from your love” and “On Valentine’s Day, three little words mean so much to hear… LENT IS COMING.”
2. Fast from fighting.
Forget giving up sweets or alcohol for Lent: Instead, forswear one of the many things you do that really annoy your partner.
3. Embrace “Valoween.”
Technically, Valoween is a mashup of Valentine’s Day and Halloween celebrated by spooky season enthusiasts, but Ash Valensday shares the same “memento mori” vibes: Think sweet skulls in a heart-shaped box, shimmery ash-black candles sprinkled with flower petals and sentiments like “I love you to death.” Even Target got into the Valoween spirit this year, sharing love letters to its popular Halloween animatronic, Lewis, on Instagram.
4. Stroll hand in hand through a cemetery.
If Ash Wednesday is all about facing our mortality, go ahead and take your soulmate to the cemetery. Look for double headstones and imagine together their love stories.
5. Planning a candlelight dinner? Make it vegetarian.
Giving up meat for Lent is a long-standing tradition — whether it’s for one meal a day, one day a week, or every day but Sunday. It’s a way to live in solidarity with the poor and is better for the environment. If you’re not already a vegetarian, challenge yourself with a meatless recipe for your special date.
6. Remember that you are loved.
The last time the two days coincided, in 2018, the Rev. Peter Antoci, pastor of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, leaned into the discomfort. Instead of reminding parishioners they were dust when he marked their foreheads with ash, he told Religion News Service at the time, he said instead, “Remember that you are beloved, and to love you shall return.”
7. Mark foreheads with heart-shaped ashes instead of the usual cross — or not.
Many liturgical traditions mark the start of Lent literally by marking worshippers’ foreheads with ashes as a sign of repentance. The suggestion to mark those ashes in the shape of a heart surfaced the last time Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day coincided, six years ago. Not everybody was sweet on the idea. As one pastor pointed out, “Drawing a cross is hard enough.” Memes abound lovingly making light of clergy’s artistic abilities when it comes to the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday.
8. Donate your date night.
Giving alms to the poor is an important part of Lenten penitence. Look back on how much you spent last year for Valentine’s Day — on gifts, fancy food, flowers, ice skating in the park — and choose a charity to donate that amount to this year. Or maybe give it to a young couple you know could use a date night but can’t afford it. (Even better, offer to babysit if they have little kids!)
9. Phone a widow(er).
Valentine’s Day is a tough one for those who have loved and lost. Reach out to someone you know whose spouse has died. Offer them comfort and also ask questions about their late partner. Prompt them for stories about how they met, milestone birthdays or anniversaries, favorite vacations. What do they miss the most? What are they most grateful to have shared together?
10. Celebrate Valentine’s Day on Fat Tuesday instead.
Some Christians may find humor or significance in marking the two occasions together. For Catholics, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has confirmed Ash Wednesday fasting takes priority over Valentine’s Day indulgences.
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