When most people think about February, they think about Valentine's Day, which brings to mind roses, chocolates, dinner, and romance.

When most people think about February, they think about Valentine's Day, which brings to mind roses, chocolates, dinner, and romance.
For some Christians, February is also often the month when Lent, the season before Easter begins with the observance of Ash Wednesday. This year, for the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday falls on Feb. 14, Valentine's Day.
Valentine's Day, also known at St. Valentine's Day, has long been observed as a day to show love. With an array of heart-shaped candy boxes, fresh and silk flowers, stuffed animals, greeting cards, boxed valentines, baked treats and numerous other gifts, Valentine's Day ranks in the top five gift giving occasions for retailers, ranking at number 3 after Christmas and Mother's Day.
Many select presents for their children and other family members as well as significant others and spouses. Many couples also dine out for a special meal on Valentine's Day but this year, for Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and some other Christians, the observance of Ash Wednesday may supersede romance.
Since today, the Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday is known as Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, or as Mardi Gras, is a day of fun and often feasting before the Lenten season begins, some sweethearts may opt to have their Valentine's celebration today.
Ash Wednesday is a solemn observance, marking the start of Lent, a period traditionally set aside for both reflection and penitence as Christians prepare for the Easter Celebration. Lent lasts for 46 days although most don't count Sundays during Lent, making the period 40 days, the same period of time that Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting and in prayer.
Ash Wednesday, also known as the Day of Ashes, dates to the A.D. 990's in Europe. By that time, the Christian faith had spread throughout the region and the custom of using ashes at the beginning of Lent.
The ashes come from the palms used on the previous Palm or Passion Sunday.
Ashes symbolize the fact that we are both human and mortal. A Scripture used during the observance of Ash Wednesday is Genesis 3:19, "For dust you are and to dust you will return."
The ashes are traditionally used to mark the sign of a cross on the forehead of those who attend Ash Wednesday services. Many wear the cross of ashes throughout the day as a mark of witness to the world at large.
In the Catholic faith, Ash Wednesday is a solemn observance and so is Lent. Catholics fast on both Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday, although one small meal is permitted. Another Lenten observance is abstaining from meat on the Fridays during Lent. Until 1966, Catholics didn't eat meat on any Fridays and some continue the custom.  Many Catholics also give-up something for Lent, sometimes something they enjoy such as chocolate or something more spiritual such as doubt.
For Christians who observe Lent, it's a time for fasting and prayer, for repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. Additional Lenten Bible study groups are often formed for the season.
In 2018, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine's Day and Easter will be on April 1, often called "April Fools Day", stemming from long ago when the calendar in use changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian.  Although Easter fell on April 1 in 1956, it was a leap year so Ash Wednesday wasn't on Valentine's Day that year.
The same thing occured, with Ash Wednesday falling on February 14 and Easter celebrated on April 1 in both 1934, 1945 and 1923. Before that, it hadn't happened since 1877. It will, however, happen again in just a few years in 2029.
February 14 this year will be a day of diverse observances. Some will enjoy traditional chocolates and flowers while others will wear the mark of their penitence, their mortality in the form of a cross made from ashes on their forehead.
Either way, it's a day that will be marked by traditional customs.