Long Island Christians taking different approaches to overlap of Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day

For Denise and Bill Ferraro, of Coram, choosing where to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year is as easy as a recipe perfected over 44 years of marriage — dinner at their go-to seafood restaurant in Patchogue, followed by dessert in downtown Port Jefferson.

But this year, the couple made no reservations for Feb. 14. They’ll celebrate the day before.

The husband and wife are two of many Long Island Catholics who will refrain from indulging on Valentine’s Day, which also is Ash Wednesday — the first day of Lent, a 40-day season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving for many Christians. (The religious and secular holidays last overlapped in 2018 and will do so again in 2029 for the last time this century, according to the website Time and Date).

Julie Byrne, religion professor and Catholic studies chair at Hofstra University, says the days are “starkly different” in the way they are observed.


  • Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is on Feb. 14 this year. It is a 40-day season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for many Christians.
  • The secular holiday Valentine’s Day also is Feb. 14, and celebrating it could pose a dilemma for some observant Christians
  • Roman Catholics in good health between the ages of 18 and 59 are obliged to not eat meat and have only one full meal on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays in Lent

Although many Christians observe the start of Lent by receiving ashes, a symbol of mortality, rituals vary by denomination. For example, Roman Catholics in good health between the ages of 18 and 59 are obliged to not eat meat and have only one full meal on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays in Lent.

About 1.47 million Catholics live on Long Island, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.

Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said in a statement: “Lent is a time of spiritual preparation for the celebration of our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection at Easter, the holiest of days. Through prayer, fasting and works of charity, we draw closer to Jesus, deepen our faith, and prepare for eternal life.”

“These obligations should not be set aside” on Ash Wednesday, Dolan said.

Last year, when St. Patrick’s Day landed on a Lenten Friday, the Catholic Church on Long Island and more than 100 other U.S. dioceses granted a “dispensation” to the faithful, allowing them to enjoy corned beef and other meats on the holiday.

Byrne said, generally, people are approaching the overlap in three ways. The first and largest group of people, both Christians and non-Christians, will prioritize Valentine’s Day, a secular holiday celebrated with romantic cards and gifts, she said.

“When you go into the local Walgreens or the local supermarket, the stuff you see … it’s not stuff about Ash Wednesday, it’s stuff about Valentine’s Day,” Byrne said. However, she added, “It’s kind of hard to be against love, even if it is commercialized.”

The second, significantly smaller group is Christians who prioritize Ash Wednesday, she said.

Some Catholics in this category reschedule their Valentine’s Day celebration. 

“It’s the most important season for devout Christians” who are Catholic, Byrne said. “So it’s really supposed to be very sober and taken very seriously.”

The third group, she said, has found a way to combine Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday.

Agatha Lyczek, 36, of Port Jefferson, said she would attend Ash Wednesday services in the evening, and then go out with her boyfriend for a Valentine’s Day dinner — but hold the meat.

“One holiday shows our commitment to each other and the other holiday shows our commitment to our faith,” she said. “Marking our foreheads with ash also makes me feel connected with others in my church community, which reminds me that we are all loved and connected.”

Denise Ferraro, 69, said although she wasn’t required to fast because of her age, she still felt it was important to observe the tradition and not eat meat on Ash Wednesday.

Celebrating Valentine’s Day on Tuesday is probably better, she said, because the seafood restaurant will likely be packed on Ash Wednesday.

Patricia “Pat” Raptoulis, president of the Rosary Society of St. James Church in Setauket, said that she and other members didn’t even realize that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day overlapped until their Tuesday meeting a week before.

Members of the group said that when they were growing up, Ash Wednesday and Lent were considered somber and emphasized sacrifice. But the church has moved toward bringing more positivity to the season, Raptoulis said.

“The love that Jesus has poured out to us, we in turn have to give that love back to him, to share ourselves with him,” Raptoulis said.

Younger Catholics are also striving to bring positivity to Lent. Emma Hertler, 18, of Maspeth, Queens, a freshman at Molloy University in Rockville Centre, says she intends to give self-love this Lenten season, beginning on Valentine’s Day.

The nursing student said she was inspired to take the approach after a discussion with her monthly Dominican Young Adults club and a gospel reading from Corinthians about how love is “the greatest gift.”

While she plans to fast and attend services on Ash Wednesday, she also will begin a daily practice of recording positive voice notes for herself, and giving herself more grace when making mistakes.

“We can give up treats, sweets, anything for the season, but if we don’t do something that is loving during the season, it’s irrelevant,” Hertler said.

Hofstra’s Byrne said while the two days are different at a glance, when you think about it, their meanings complement each other.

“It’s not the worst thing in the world to put the two days together and remember that love is part of life and death is part of life,” she said. “The deepest way to do love is to remember that it’s part of this very mortal life we live in.”

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