Ash Wednesday vs Valentine's Day: the February 14th Catholic Conundrum

Mailbag time!
The Question: Hi Kendra, I was wondering if you were going to write a post about how Valentine’s Day is on Ash Wednesday & how you guys will address that at your house. My thought was to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day the day before like the vigil. But I’m having a hard time as to how best to explain that to my kids that are mostly still little (my oldest is 10 but has autism). I’d love to hear your thoughts on this if you have the chance. Thanks! -Anna
The Answer: Hey Anna, I wasn't going to, baby George just started sleeping in his crib a couple nights ago and I'm knee-deep in wallpaper samples and paint chips, but yours isn't the only question I've gotten on the subject, so a quick type-it-out seems warranted. Short answer, I think yours sounds like an excellent plan. Moving feast days when they conflict is a magisterium-approved solution. When St. Joseph's Day or the Solemnity of the Annunciation fall during Holy Week, we just move 'em and celebrate them another day, officially, as a whole Church. Our homeschool group is doing a Valentine's exchange on Friday (today). The husband and I will go out for dinner sometime this weekend to celebrate together. We'll let the kids open their cards from Gramma and exchange their own homemade Valentines and have their treats early. In our family, Fat Tuesday is always a much bigger deal than Valentine's Day, anyway. We are fortunate to be in control of when our homeschool celebrations take place, and our kids who go to regular school attend a faithful Catholic school, so there won't be any conflict there. They'll also exchange school Valentines before Ash Wednesday. But I know others aren't so lucky, and have kids who attend public school, or Catholic schools that aren't paying attention . And that's a big ol' bummer. Because on February 14th, Ash Wednesday must win.
I'm in no way against Valentine's Day as a fun, cute tradition. I'm a fan of any attempts to reclaim for Catholicism what has become a very secular celebration. I 💗 Catholic Valentines. But St. Valentine's Day definitely loses to Ash Wednesday. In fact, it already lost to the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius! There is very little historical record about St. Valentine. All we know is his name, and that he was martyred and buried at a cemetery on the Via Flaminia close to the Ponte Milvio to the north of Rome on February 14th. Even his story in the 13th century Golden Legend, which is usually quite verbose, is basically: "There was a knight named Valentine. He was arrested by the emperor and wouldn't apostatize. He healed the provost's blind daughter. Then the emperor lopped off his head. The End." So, in the 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar by Pope Paul VI, that emphasized saints who have a historical footprint, St. Valentine was left off. He's still a saint. We can still celebrate his feast day. But on the universal calendar, the day belongs to Sts. Cyril and Methodius (they seem like fun guys, no? 😐😐😄) . . .
about whom there is a great deal of historical record. They were brothers who lived in the ninth century. They were missionaries, theologians, and the apostles to the Slavs, translating the Bible and creating the cyrillic alphabet with which to do it. And St. Cyril died on February 14th, so they get the day. Except when it's Ash Wednesday, then they get bumped too. Because, let's face it, Ash Wednesday is a BIG deal. Before Pope Pope Paul VI issued Paenitemini in 1966, Catholics observed FIFTY-SIX days of required fasting each year: every day of Lent (excluding Sundays), four sets of three Ember Days, and the Vigils of Christmas, Pentecost, the Immaculate Conception, and All Saints’ Day. Since 1966, we observe . . . two: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The rules are:
All Catholics from the completion of their twenty-first year to the beginning of their sixtieth year are bound to observe the Law of fast. . . . Only one full meal is allowed on a day of Fast. Two other meatless meals are permitted. These meals should be sufficient to maintain strength in accordance with each one's needs. Both of these meals, or collations, together, should not equal one full meal. . . . Solid foods between meals is not permitted. Liquids, including coffee, tea, milk and fruit juices are allowed.
In connection with problems arising from the Laws of Fast and Abstinence, a confessor or priest should be consulted. Dispensations may be granted for a serious reason concerning health or the ability to work.
Abstinence from meat on abstinence days is obligatory for Catholics aged fourteen to sixty. (But our whole family abstains from meat every Friday of the year, and the little kids don't even notice. It's the fifteen year old boy who suffers it!) Even though none of my kids are bound by the fast, and most of them aren't even bound to the abstinence from meat, *I* am still bound to make sure that they know that Ash Wednesday is a penitential day: "As regards those of a lesser age, pastors of souls and parents should see to it with particular care that they are educated to a true sense of penitence." Faces full of heart-shaped candy isn't going to do that. So, if we were faced with the dilemma of secular Valentine's Day parties on Ash Wednesday itself, I would make a point of giving Ash Wednesday precedence. We would, of course, go to Mass and receive ashes. Everyone of every age in our family receives ashes (ashes are a sacramental rather than a sacrament, and so can be received by babies, the mentally disabled, and even non-Catholics). If I could keep my kids home from preschool or school that day, I would. If I couldn't, I wouldn't sweat it for very little kids. For more mature little kids and all kids past the age of reason (First Communion age), if they needed to go to school, I'd make them a deal that we'd have plenty of treats and early Valentines on Fat Tuesday, and they could bring their school Valentine treats home and save them to eat on Sunday. But fasting from treats on Ash Wednesday seems like a given, even though it's not written in canon law. I think it's GREAT to start kids early on the concept of OUR family culture. We do things differently because we're Catholic, but most importantly because we're Tierneys (and Tierneys are awesome). If we are to succeed in keeping our kids Catholic for their whole lives--the goal, obviously--they are going to have to do a LOT of things differently than the rest of society. Waiting to eat Valentine candy, or better yet, stuffing our faces on Fat Tuesday instead, is small potatoes. I trust my kids to handle it. I'm sure each of us can figure out a way that works with our own family circumstances, to give Ash Wednesday the place it deserves. Related reading . . .


----------- And when you figure out when you're doing Valentine's Day, if you need some quick, Catholic, Valentines, there are free printables on the blog here:


And three sets in the digital shop, formatted for easy double-sided printing!
Happy feasting and fasting, y'all.