Be my Valentine
Stereotypically Valentine’s Day is often loved by women and loathed by men! Comedian Jay Leno suggests “men like to call it Extortion Day!” The hopeless romantic enjoys the opportunity for romance and passion. Others find it a crude reminder of realities they would rather forget. My young sons tend to block their ears and rush away screaming at the mention of ‘love’! There is a host of different reactions.
What we cannot do is ignore it! It has become a significant part of our cultural landscape, partly at least because of the commercial profit to be made and partly because our western culture loves love! Especially the sentimental soul-mate sickly sweet variety!
But where does it all come from?
Who was Valentine
The details of his life are sketchy, but Valentine was allegedly a Christian who was canonized by the Catholic Church as a saint. His name is derived from the Latin word valens, meaning strong and powerful.
Confusing matters more, there may have been as many as three ‘Valentines’ who all loved Jesus, were martyred for him, and whose lives have become jumbled up in the re-telling.
One legend claims that Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage because single men made better soldiers. But a priest named Valentine secretly performed marriages, thereby defending romance and love.
Another legend claims that prior to being beheaded, Valentine prayed over the daughter of his jailer, curing of her blindness.
The celebration of Saint Valentine was initially fairly minor. But in AD 498, Pope Gelasius chose February 14 as the day for commemorating Valentine’s life because that was the day he reportedly died as a Christian martyr (around AD 270). That day proved to be opportune, as later a medieval legend emerged that birds select their mates on February 14! Saint Valentine’s Day also fell the day before the Roman fertility feast of Lupercalia on February 15. Lupercalia was a festival a little like Freshers’ Week (in the UK) or Mardi Gras and Spring Break (in the US) today! Lupercalia was dedicated to Faunus, the god of parties! Once Saint Valentine became connected with the debauchery of Lupercalia, his Christian influence on the holiday quickly waned.
Cards and Gifts
One legend reports that Valentine actually sent the first valentine card; while in prison awaiting his execution, he wrote a love letter to a woman and signed it, “From your Valentine.”
By the Middle Ages, Valentine’s Day was widely celebrated. The first ‘modern’ Valentine’s Day card was reportedly a poem sent by Charles, the Duke of Orleans, to his wife in 1415 while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. That card remains on display at the British Museum in London. By 1450, to be someone’s valentine was synonymous with being his or her boy or girlfriend.
By the mid-1700s, Valentine’s Day grew in popularity throughout Great Britain, and around that time in American. By the 1840s, the commercial greeting card companies began mass-producing cards. Today, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, after Christmas.
Making the most of Valentine’s Day
Sadly, the holiday in his name completely ignores the great Christian hero Valentine. But why not redeem your Valentine’s Day? Make it about a great Christian hero – Valentine; or a great Christian value – love. How could you redeem Valentine’s Day back to the great Jesus-loving men, all three of them, called Valentine?
Maybe my sons would be less likely to rush away screaming in horror at the thought of Valentines day if they knew the love it celebrates is not sickly sweet but robust, solid and life-saving? Perhaps that meal out could be so much more than a sentimental rose-petaled evening if its a affirmation of a ‘Valentine-strong’ love in that partnership or marriage?