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Feast or fast? Lent and Valentine's Day make for a strange mix

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A young girl participates in an Ash Wednesday service at St. Peter's Catholic Church in this 2015 file photo. Ash Wednesday is the start of the season of Lent.

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By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

To feast or to fast? That is the question many find themselves facing today as Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday share the same day for the first time since 1945. 

Churches and some local businesses are gearing up for one of the biggest days of the year as observing Catholics and Christians attend services to kick off Lent while romantics grab flowers, cards and chocolate for their significant others. 

In other words, it is a day of love and repentance. 

“God works his wonders for some reason,” Susan Jones, director of stewardship for St. Peter Catholic Church, said with a laugh. 

At St. Peter, the expectation is that there is no exception for the converging holidays. With four different mass times scheduled between 7:15 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., it is expected that church members will follow the traditional Catholic observation of Ash Wednesday — getting their foreheads marked and start to fast for Lent, during which they limit their meal sizes and avoid eating meat on Fridays for 40 days. 

In other words, do not expect to see many St. Peter members digging in a heart-shaped box of chocolates today. 

“You can celebrate Valentine’s another day,” Jones said. “It is abstinence and fasting on Ash Wednesday.” 

Other churches are a little bit more flexible when it comes to the double holiday. Hooker Memorial Christian Church, for example, is doing its best to welcome both occasions by holding offer “Ashes to Go,” where people can get marked without even leaving the car, if they so chose.

Rain or shine, Rev. Kara Schwartz and members of the church will be posted up outside the church from 4-6 p.m. to offer blessings to those who stop through. 

“It’s a way of reaching those who are unable to do a traditional sit-down service,” Schwartz said. “Sometimes they can be in between getting off work and picking up kids. Those things called life happen. … This is our way of offering the community a unique and different way of remembering that.”

Schwartz, who started doing “Ashes to Go,” last year, said the new-wave approach to the mostly traditional event was prompted out of the needs of church’s members. Most, she said, are young families or older members who may not be able to stay up for a late-night service. 

As for fasting, she said her church interprets Lent in a different way than that of Roman Catholics. The practice of giving things up in observance of the lenten season is a personal decision. Sometimes people even take things on during the 40-day span, opting to pray or read the Bible more. 

If some Catholics and Christians are shirking Valentine’s Day, Greg Lee, owner of The Flower Basket Florist, certainly has not noticed. His Tuesday was spent hurriedly putting together bouquets featuring red roses or orchids, a Valentine’s staple. With all hands on deck, this is one of the busiest times of the year for the small flower shop.

“It’s our biggest day of the year by far,” Lee said. “It’s hectic, constant phones ringing, people coming in and out. (Wednesday) will be three times as bad, probably.”

Cards are another staple of the holiday and the local Hallmark store was full of shoppers looking for the perfect message to give to their loved ones. Store manager Josh Rice said the rainy weather on Monday slowed things down a bit. By midday Tuesday, however, the store was looking like its normal self around Valentine’s Day. 

For Abby Fuoto, a Winterville native, Valentine’s Day is a chance to swap cards and relax with her husband. This year they will cook a meal and stay in — low maintenance at its finest.

“We get each other a card and we try to spend time together,” Fuoto, who has been married for 12 years said as she browsed cards in Hallmark. “A successful marriage is more about making a life together than just Feb. 14.”

Chandera Moore, 60, used to try to battle the crowd for a romantic night out with her husband. Now, like Fuoto, she would rather have a peaceful night in, spent with her family.

“It’s too much,” she said. “My son usually has homework so we normally just do takeout and bring it home.”

Still, the way the day is spent does not reduce its importance in her eyes. 

“It’s special,” Moore said. “It’s a day where you get to say how much you love someone and show extra appreciation.”

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.

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