CAPITAL REGION — Ash Wednesday means dust on foreheads and the beginning of Lent, a solemn period on the Christian liturgical calendar.
St. Valentine's Day, a Christian feast day, represents love and celebrates relationships.
Both are today — and it's a rare convergence.
Gray-black crosses last shared the day with red hearts on Feb. 14, 1945 — 73 years ago. Wednesday's double event may mean challenges for some people planning traditional Valentine's Day lunches and dinners.
In addition to a smudge of ashes and a declaration of faith, Catholics are tasked with abstaining from meat for the day. Many will follow those rules each Friday for six weeks until Easter Sunday — April 1.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany — like other dioceses across the country — said permission to eat meat Wednesday will not be granted.
"Because Ash Wednesday is a particularly special holy day, unlike a typical Friday in Lent, there would not be a dispensation," read a statement issued Tuesday by the diocese.
The statement also said Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day are similar, although the days may not seem alike.
"Both are about true love and the sacrifice that love sometimes demands of us," the statement reads, "whether between God and his people or between a couple in love."
Dispensations have been granted by the diocese during past Lents in years when St. Patrick's Day has fallen on a Friday. Corned beef dinners have become an American tradition for the salute to the Irish; the diocese last granted dispensations in 2017, when St. Patrick's landed on Friday.
The Rev. Richard Carlino, pastor at St. Anthony's and St. John the Evangelist churches in Schenectady, said Lenten requirements should not be looked upon as restrictions.
"The church invites us to interior conversion by asking for these practices," Carlino said. "The more people see it as an invitation to interior conversion, an ongoing conversion, the more meaningful Ash Wednesday will be."
Guy Sementilli, owner and chef at Scotti's restaurant on Union Street in Schenectady, said Valentine's is his third biggest day of the year. Only Mother's Day and Easter bring in more diners.
Sementilli expects people will come to Scotti's after Ash Wednesday church services that will be held throughout the day. He also expects to sell plenty of seafood.
"Valentine's being Ash Wednesday or not, we sell a ton of seafood — shrimp cocktail, a hot antipasto with seafood in it," Sementilli said. "We will still go through a good amount of seafood, but being Ash Wednesday on top of it, it's probably going to be a big seafood night."
There will also be Valentine diners at Cornells in Little Italy on North Jay Street in Schenectady. General manager and chef Mike Pietrocola said he knows people go out for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday during Lent.
"I've worked in three, four restaurants in Schenectady, I've never seen it more fish than meat," he said. "I don't think it matters. We're going to have fish on the menu regardless, we have it every night. I've got lobster on tomorrow, I've got duck."
At Sperry's in Saratoga Springs, general manager Kareem NeJame said the Caroline Street restaurant is nearly booked to capacity for Valentine couples. Chefs and servers will serve between 150 and 200 meals.
Sperry's has prepared for people who will observe the Ash Wednesday traditions, as well as for people who have no dietary restrictions.
NeJame said the menu is the key. He said Sperry's offers contemporary American foods, continental cuisine. Meats, seafood, pasta and vegetarian dishes are all options.
"I would guess that some place that has a barbecue menu or something like that probably has a little more issue with days like this as they're so meat-centric," NeJame said.
For Catholics who want to follow their faith, but don't like seafood, NeJame said Valentine's Day could be a time to try a vegetarian dish. Another option is side orders; Sperry's offers portions of potato, rice and vegetable dishes that accompany main courses.
"If you want, you could create a small plate or tapas-style meal from the 15 to 18 vegetable, potato and rice dishes we have," NeJame said.
At the Raindancer in Amsterdam, Margie Schulz is wondering how Ash Wednesday will affect her Valentine's crowd.
"We're not sure, we're kind of waiting to see what's going to happen with that," said Schulz, the Route 30 restaurant's general manager. "We have a lot of seafood, so we do have options. We have whole lobster, stuffed shrimp, fresh salmon. We have pasta dishes, eggplant. There are things they can have that would fit into their Ash Wednesday menus."
Rev. Dominic Isopo, pastor of St. Luke's Church in Schenectady, said Ash Wednesday is an important day for Catholics. Participation means people are willing to endure the 40-day process of Lent.
"You have to make priorities," Isopo said. "If going out to dinner is more important than being reconciled with God and one another, well, you make the choice."
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected].