Written by Janika Grimlund. Media by Momoka Murata.
As a child, I loved Valentine’s Day because my mom always got out our box of Disney valentines: The Lion King, Mickie Mouse, Lady and the Tramp, Aristocats. It was exciting to hand the little pink and red cards out to the people I loved, which was a lot of people! I loved asking, “Will you be my Valentine?” My mom and I used to listen to the Adventures in Odyssey radio episode about St. Valentine right before bedtime. As an adult, all I remember from the story is that there were two people in love and St. Valentine married them despite his imprisonment.
After revisiting my childhood and listening to the Adventures in Odyssey on Valentine’s Day, I thought I would share with you a more accurate version of the St. Valentine story:
According to the Catholic Church tradition, there were two men named Valentine. The first, who is featured in the Adventures in Odyssey episode, lived during the third century in Rome. St. Valentine was martyred for performing illegal marriages. The story goes that Emperor Claudius II banned marriage for military aged men because single men were seen as better soldiers. Valentine, however, continued to officiate weddings and was eventually imprisoned and executed because of it. All in the name of LOVE!
The second story suggests that St. Valentine helped Christians escape Roman prisons and eventually became imprisoned himself. He fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and wrote her secret letters. From this legend birthed our present Valentines Day! Like my little pink Mickie Mouse cards, letters were how St. Valentine kept forbidden love alive. He always signed his notes, “From your Valentine.” Sound familiar? He was eventually executed for his crimes.
Did I mention that both men are said to be executed on Feb. 14?
Some claim that the Romans were responsible for creating the holiday. Originally, “the feast of Lupercalia”, celebrated Feb. 13-15, was a drunken, violent, sexual display. It is possible that his feast was combined with the celebration of St. Valentines by the Pope in the fifth century. Thankfully, the Catholic Church redeemed some of the horrible rituals. Although, the day continued to be a celebration of romantic love and fertility.
A more accurate historic connection between Feb. 14 and the celebration of love stems from a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer:
For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bride cometh there to choose his mate.”
Poets liked the idea of love in February because several writers, like William Shakespeare for instance, connected St. Valentine’s with romance at that time of the year.
As with most modern holidays, Valentine’s Day did not begin in the purest form, nor is the origin completely known. However, over the centuries it evolved into a day of flowers, chocolate, love notes, candlelight, and expensive (or not so expensive) dinners. This connotation brought about some bitterness and resentment to those who are not romantically involved. It created shallow expectations and inevitable disappointments; an image that many associate with love.
St. Valentine gave us an example of true love even if the stories are just legend. Each story exhibits selflessness, courage, and consistency toward others. Roses and Ghirardelli are only shallow substitutes for these qualities. Imagine if Valentine’s Day celebrated courage and selflessness as the foundation of true love. Imagine if, instead of a fancy meal like steak and shrimp, the day was spent ministering and defending the poor? What if when we asked, “will you be my Valentine?”, it meant, “will you stick with me in the face of hardship?”