The Irish Times view on St Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday: an unusual coincidence

The official start of Lenten abstinence collides with a day devoted to cards, confectionery, extravagant bouquets and intimate dinners

Those who consider themselves both devout and romantic face an unusual choice today. For only the third time since 1945, Ash Wednesday and St Valentine’s Day coincide. The official start of 40 days of Lenten abstinence collides with a day devoted to cards, confectionery, extravagant bouquets and intimate dinners. Which will win out?

There would have been little doubt which took precedence in 1945, when the tell-tale daub of ash would have been visible on nearly every forehead, while fasting obligations (a single meatless meal all day, with no alcohol) would have been easy enough to observe during wartime rationing.

Fast forward to 2018, when the clash next occurred, and all had changed utterly. The elevation of St Valentine’s Day to a full consumer blowout was a boon to restaurateurs, chocolatiers and florists, but was parallelled by a precipitous decline in Catholic religious observance. The smudge on the forehead became rarer as the heart-shaped boxes of chocolates grew larger.

Bishop Denis Nulty, the president of Catholic marriage support agency Accord, said this week that observant couples will probably celebrate Valentine’s on a different day this week, or perhaps go out for a meal at the weekend. Ash Wednesday, he advises, is also “essentially about love – the love of Christ for each one of us”.


By following the bishop’s counsel, couples can accrue significant benefits for their bank balances as well as their souls. A dozen red roses will cost you 20 per cent more today than at any other time of the year and research suggests average restaurant prices go up by 30 per cent on Valentine’s night. Defer your amorous intentions until tomorrow for significant savings.

If that sounds too unromantic, bear in mind that, even when it does not clash with Ash Wednesday, St Valentine’s Day itself can be rather penitential. The pressure to live up to an unrealistic ideal of romantic perfection will place strain on the most committed relationship. Better, perhaps, to use every other day of the year to let them know they are truly loved.