Normally, we would simply be celebrating St. Valentine's Day this Feb. 14. But today also marks Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. Both holidays have long histories.
Valentine's Day is named for not one, but two—maybe three—Christian martyrs named Valentine.
Saint Valentine of Temi was a bishop who was supposedly killed during the persecution of Emperor Aurelian. Saint Valentine of Rome was a priest who died for the faith in the year 269.
The Roman Catholic Church has another Valentine who was martyred in Africa, but nothing more is known of him. The church declared Feb. 14 as St. Valentine's Day around the year 498, mainly as part of an effort to Christianize a pagan fertility holiday celebrated during that time.
It was the writer Geoffrey Chaucer who first associated Valentine's Day with love, in a passage in the 1382 poem "Parlement of Foules" written to honor the betrothal of King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia.
The Valentine's Day that Chaucer referred to, though, was a day commemorating yet another valentine, a former bishop of Genoa, whose feast fell on May 2, the same day the marriage treaty for the royal couple was signed.
Over the years, though, it was the Feb. 14 Valentine's Day date that became enshrined as the day for lovers.
Ash Wednesday marks the first of 40 days Jesus Christ took to the desert, fasting and resisting the temptations of Satan. In the Christian faith the day is marked with a religious service and the imposition of ashes in the shape of a cross made from the palms of the previous year's Palm Sunday. The ashes are to remind congregants of their own mortality and need of repentance. Dating back at least to the 10th Century A.D., the imposition of ashes became part of the Lenten observance in the Roman Catholic Church in 1091. It is now observed by many mainstream Christian denominations.
Some scoff at Valentine's Day, saying the holiday is more about money these days than romance. And there is truth to that.
As for Ash Wednesday, to many it is an important part of their faith. Others see it all as a bunch of needless ceremony at best, superstition at worst.
But like all such days both Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day are what you make of them. They are as much about faith, belief and love as you want them to be.