On first blush, these two holidays have nothing to do with each other as they are commonly observed. Sure, St. Valentine’s Day has its origins as a Christian holiday where we remember Valentine of Rome, a 3rd century saint who was martyred allegedly by beheading and whose actual life is obscured by legend and folklore. But that’s not how we celebrate Valentine’s Day, which is irrevocably linked with hearts, candy, flowers, and declarations of romantic love.
Contrast this with Ash Wednesday, a somber day of reflection marking the beginning of Lent, a 40 day season of preparation for Easter marked by fasting, prayer, self-denial, and spiritual discipline. The day itself is marked (literally) with ashes placed upon the penitent observer’s forehead with the morbid reminder, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Quite a contrast with wine and roses. Imagine penning this for your loved one:
Roses are red. Violets are blue. I’m going to die, and so are you.
But, maybe these two holidays aren’t as far apart as they first may seem. Let’s look a little under the surface.
Ash Wednesday is about humbling ourselves, recognizing our own limitations, and seeking to undergo a discipline of service and self-sacrifice. Valentine’s Day is about demonstrations of love, which is essentially a matter of thinking of others before ourselves. An effective demonstration of love is one that the other person would appreciate and understand as love, not one which gratifies our own needs.
It’s no accident that our Presbyterian relief organization is called “Presbyterian Disaster Assistance” which abbreviates to “PDA,” a common abbreviation for “Public Displays of Affection.” We show our love publicly through service and sacrifice, which are themes consistent with both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day.
So, this coming Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day, show your love with the sign of the cross written in ashes.