This year, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day—a major conflict of interest for kids and couples alike. You could put off your celebration of Valentine’s Day until the weekend…or you could celebrate the two days together. Here are ten ideas for how to do it.
by Jen Schlameuss-Perry
It’s only February and it’s already been a really weird liturgical year. This year, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day. If you’re giving up chocolate for Lent, or if you’re big on celebrating Valentine’s Day, it’s a major conflict of interests! What is a couple; what is a family to do?! One option is to put Valentine’s celebrations off to the weekend. But, allow me to offer another option—observe both events together.
Ash Wednesday is the Church’s kickoff for Lent. We go to Church, get our ashes, begin our personal fasts and also fast and abstain from meat. (Click here for regulations on fasting and abstinence.) It’s penitential by nature, and is meant to have a somber attitude attached to it. Valentine’s Day is a celebration of the love we have for one another, and usually involves decadent foods, gift-giving, and a certain amount of romance. They don’t seem like a natural fit, but I think they can work together nicely.
Our observation of Lent is really about going off into the desert with God to grow in intimacy. We open our hearts, let God examine them, and spend deliberate time working on our relationship. We make changes to our lives to allow for that growth—removing distractions, adding practices that we hope will make God more present to us, reaching out to others because of the love we have for God. We rekindle the relationship that perhaps has grown a little stale just because of the demands of everyday life. This can happen in romantic relationships, too.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that God chooses to reveal himself in the image of a spouse to Israel and the Church. Throughout the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, God presents himself as a husband to his people. It’s an intimate, caring, supportive, knowing, loving relationship. And it can grow stale—not on God’s end, but on ours for sure. God speaks to us through the prophet Hosea’s experience in this way, “Therefore, I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” (Hosea 2:14) God wants to take us out to the desert, on a mini second honeymoon, so that we can remember the love that we once shared. God talks more about wooing us back in the Prophet Ezekiel promising to replace our stony hearts with soft ones (Ezekiel 36:26), and the Song of Songs, which is a love poem that represents God’s passionate love for humanity.
We know that God’s love for us is sacrificial, and that God calls us to a sacrificial love, too. Throughout Lent we’re more intentional about making sacrifices in our fasting, praying and almsgiving. This Ash Wednesday, we can set our minds on opening our hearts to Jesus more perfectly, allowing him to truly be our spouse, and committing ourselves to sharing that love with those closest to us more perfectly.
10 Ways to Celebrate Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day Together
So, without further ado, here are ten practical ways to celebrate Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day together:
1. Whenever you get a hunger pang from your fasting, make an intentional effort to remember God’s sacrificial love for you.
2. Make an effort to go to Church together as a family for Ash Wednesday Mass (or Liturgy of the Word) and ashes rather than everyone going separately.
3. Offer your Lenten sacrifices up for the relationship in your life that most needs God’s healing.
4. Although we have to fast, make your one meal a special one with your family—make (heart-shaped) pizza together (see recipe, below), or some other meatless meal that you all enjoy, and savor one another’s company.
5. Write love letters to your spouse and/or children, reminding them of God’s love for them, and your love for them. Include a “gift card” that states a sacrifice you’ll make for them this Lent.
6. Give a truly meaningful gift to the ones you love—give the gift of your undistracted attention at dinner.
7. At dinner, tell your kids about your wedding vows: what they meant to you on the day of your wedding, and what they mean today. How have their meaning changed through the years? Discuss how God’s love for your family has formed, informed and binds your family together.
8. Acknowledge in gratitude a sacrifice that each family member has made, or regularly makes, and tell them what it means to you.
9. Discuss ways that each of you can take time daily to “go into the desert with Jesus” to spend quality time with him. For little kids it might be reading a prayer book with a parent or older sibling, or watching a Veggie Tales episode; for older kids maybe a little lectio divina or journaling, for adults maybe praying the Rosary or the Examen.
10. As a Valentine’s Day gift to God, choose a Lenten practice that you can do as a family that will help build your relationships (make a gadget-free family night once a week, pray the Rosary or some other prayer together once a week, commit to attend Stations of the Cross together, donate time together at a nursing home or soup kitchen, choose a charity that you can all work on collecting money for throughout Lent).
Then, on Friday or Saturday the chocolate can come, and you can go on a date and do what you do on a normal Valentine’s Day. The love that we have for one another flows from God’s love for us. When we remember this and draw from it, our love has an infinitely deep well from which to draw. Our family relationships are fed when our relationship with God is fed. Let this Ash Wednesday, and all of Lent, be an opportunity for your family to appreciate the gift of God’s love for you, and set the tone of Lent as one of building God’s love in your family.
Easy Homemade Pizza for Valentine’s Day
- 4 cups of flour (I like to mix a little bit of herbs in; like garlic powder, basil, oregano, parsley, onion powder)
- 1½ cup warm water mixed with 1 TBSP of yeast, and a pinch of sugar
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
Mix flour, salt and, if desired, herbs, in a mixing bowl or food processor. After the yeast has proofed in the warm water with sugar (about 10 minutes), add it, and the oil to the flour and mix. Let it mix until it’s all blended. Place the dough in a lightly greased, deep bowl, and cover with plastic wrap for at least an hour. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Get your favorite sauce, cheese and vegetarian toppings ready. Generously flour a large cutting board or other clean, flat surface. Place the dough on the board, cut in half, and shape into circles. Press into a larger circle so that it’s fairly flat, but able to be placed on to the baking sheet that you will be using. I like to use pizza stones. Place some cornmeal on the baking surface, press the dough into the desired thickness, spread about a half cup (or more if you like) of sauce on, sprinkle with cheese and toppings and place on a high rack in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Makes two full-sized pizzas if you roll them out all the way, or four nice-sized personal pizzas.