For the first time in more than 70 years, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday will fall on the same day this year. A few weeks later, Easter Sunday and April Fools’ Day also fall on the same day.
The two February holidays will overlap again in 2024 and 2029, according to researchers at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, or CARA, based at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. In 2096, Ash Wednesday will occur on Leap Year Day, Feb. 29, for the first time in the church’s history.
For Catholics and other Christians, Ash Wednesday is an important holy day in the liturgical calendar. It signals the beginning of Lent, the 40-day period before Easter Sunday, when Christians typically “give up” some earthly pleasure, such as chips, alcohol, chocolate or soda, as a form of penance.
On Ash Wednesday, priests or ministers apply ashes in the shape of the cross to devotees’ foreheads. People generally wear the ashes throughout the day to publicly express their faith. The ashes are made from the burning of palms blessed in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration, when Christians carry palms to recognize the Gospels’ reference to Jesus’ path being covered in palm fronds on the day he entered Jerusalem.
Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine originated as a Western Christian liturgical feast day, honoring one or more early saints named Valentinus, and is recognized as a significant cultural and commercial celebration in many regions around the world, although it is not a public holiday in any country.
“The fact that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same date shouldn’t make any difference to our services,” said the Rev. Nicholas Sykes, rector of St. Alban’s church in George Town and Secretary of the Cayman Ministers’ Association.
The Ash Wednesday message will basically be the same as other years – the importance of preparing for spiritual growth, he said.
“A lot of people … observe Valentine’s Day,” the Rev. Sykes said. “Obviously, the date changes but what the Cayman Ministers’ Association has acknowledged in the past, is that the Sunday before Valentine’s Day, churches look on the importance of marriage and holy matrimony and the way it requires commitment to one person, which, perhaps the secular Valentine’s Day does not.”
Many Christians consider Easter Sunday one of the most important dates on the Christian calendar. It is celebrated with church services, festive family meals, Easter egg decoration and gift-giving, prayer, all-night vigil and sunrise services.
Easter calender dates depend on the timing of the full moon relative to March 21.
Here in Grand Cayman, the Bodden Town Church of God congregation held Easter campouts as a church activity. Women hid boiled Easter eggs among seagrape leaves and behind rocks for the children to find.
This year, the day will coincide with a secular tradition, April Fools’ Day.
“April Fools’ day is just a gloss,” the Rev. Sykes said. “It doesn’t have any religious connotations … it’s just a jokey, jokey thing. Certainly, Easter is no joke, that’s for sure. It’s the resurrection of our Lord.”