In a rare coincidence, Ash Wednesday, a major holiday within Christianity, falls on the same day as a major secular holiday this year: Valentine's Day. Sure, V-Day is named for a Christian saint, but at this point, it's more closely associated with exchanging gifts and sharing a romantic (and often pricey) meal with your lover than religion.
In fact, these two holidays don't have much in common at all. On the one hand, Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance and abstinence — those who observe it are encouraged to fast, attend services and confession, and, yes, wear ashes in the shape of a cross on their forehead. This solemn holiday is also the first day of Lent, the 40-day-long period leading up to Easter Sunday. On the other hand (and we probably don't need to tell you this), Valentine's Day is the day when people feel commercial and societal pressure to shower their loved ones with affection, treats, and gifts.
Unsurprisingly, the consumerist and materialistic aspects of V-Day kind of put it in opposition to the values of Ash Wednesday. Of course, if you've never observed Ash Wednesday or Lent, and don't plan to start this year, you can proceed with your Valentine's Day plans as usual. But, if you're a practicing Christian, how do you deal when these two holidays occur on the same day?
According to a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of New York, Ash Wednesday should come before Valentine's Day. Period. Fortunately, the spokesperson says that that doesn't mean you have to abstain from chocolate hearts altogether this year. You can still do nice things for your partner on Wednesday; it's just that anything too extravagant won't be in keeping with the spirit of Ash Wednesday. If you were hoping to go all out this V-Day and observe Lent to the letter, the spokesperson says you can just scoot your fancy dinner or gift exchange to the night before.
Taking this approach, in which you celebrate Valentine's Day early, actually works out pretty well when you consider the Christian calendar. This Tuesday, the 13th, is Fat Tuesday, aka Mardis Gras. So it's in keeping with Fat Tuesday traditions to get a little debauched, should your V-Day plans take that route.
Ultimately, how you observe your religion (and Valentine's Day, for that matter) is a personal decision. It's up to you to decide where you draw your lines — there's no "wrong" answer here.
But, if you happen to be a practicing Christian who gets into Valentine's Day, don't stress out. Your date will most likely understand if you have to move your V-Day festivities due to your faith. Hey, it could just mean they get their candy a day or two early.