Catholics torn between chocolates or fasting as Valentine’s Day clash with Ash Wednesday

Auxiliary Bishop David Kamau who presiding over the Ash Wednesday mass last year at Holy Family Basilica

For the first time in decades, Ash Wednesday falls on the same day as Valentine’s Day. The last time Valentine’s and Ash Wednesday fell on the same day was 73 years ago, in 1945.

The calendar collision of the sacred Ash Wednesday and the far more secular Valentine’s Day could cause challenges for some who might want to take part in both events.

For many years, February 14 has been the time to rekindle love bonds - treat your love interest to a sumptuous meal accompanied by a bouquet of red roses and a box of chocolates. Ash Wednesday on the other hand, marks the start of Lent – a time to pray and make penance.

The Catholic Church requires believers to fast on Ash Wednesday and abstain from meat every Friday for the next 40 days. And they’re not getting any special permission to indulge this year.

Daniel Ojunga, a staunch Catholic, is torn between popping champagne and indulging in chocolate, and fasting.

“Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the only two days of the whole year on which fasting and abstinence are required, but I had already made plans with my fiancée in a high-end hotel. What to do?” wondered Mr Ojunga.

He laughed at the thought of his girlfriend dressed in a red dinner dress, with ash on her forehead and seated across from him in a hotel drinking water while looking at other couples enjoying their meals.

“I wish I could share my decision now, but I am talking with my girlfriend to find a way forward,” he said in conclusion.

Ash Wednesday launches the 40 days before Easter when Christians refocus their relationship with God. Both celebrations with Roman Catholic origins mean a lot to believers.

While Catholic priests across the world have urged their members to sacrifice Valentine’s Day for Ash Wednesday, which cannot be postponed, some Christians remain adamant and have kept on with their Valentine’s plans.

“It is routine that my wife and I spend Valentine’s Day together. And it is not just Valentine’s Day for us; this one marks five years since we got married. She arrives in the country today (yesterday) and we shall celebrate the day,” said Martin Kulei, a Catholic.

Even though Mr Kulei and his wife will not fast today, he says he will remind everyone around him that they are loved. He will not wear the ash cross on his forehead.

Remind believers

The cross-shaped ash sign is meant to symbolise man’s earthly demise, but it also remind believers that death is not the end, thanks to God’s ultimate act of love when He let Jesus Christ die on the cross so that believers can live eternally.

Agnes Aineah, a journalist, said she would sacrifice her plans to observe Ash Wednesday, which she says is more than a human relationship.

In Nairobi, vendors increased flower prices yesterday in anticipation of more buyers today.

Alex Gagonyo said a single rose stem that usually costs Sh30 is now Sh50 while a basket arrangement is Sh1,500 from Sh1,000 previously.

The vendors are confident they will not lack a market as many Nairobians interviewed by The Standard said they planned to buy flowers and chocolate for their partners.

“Flowers and chocolates cannot be discussed. It’s Valentine’s Day,” said Janet Gachie, a city resident.

Samson Muthii also said he would buy a bouquet of flowers for his girlfriend to remind her that he treasures their relationship.