Hearts, roses, chocolates, flowers, & everything red & pink; when I think of Valentine's Day, that's basically what comes to mind. All that & of course those massive teddy bears bigger than an NFL lineman that fill the shelves in the holiday sections of most stores. But what is this "lovey-dovey" holiday really about besides an excuse for single ladies to host a Galentine's Night or for a cute couple to go on a even cuter date?
Well ladies & gents, meet Valentinus, the day's namesake. As a Christian priest in third century Rome, Valentinus, or Valentine as you probably call him, performed marriages for young couples in the church. He was just an ordinary priest doing ordinary tasks, & marrying young lovers happened to be one such task. However, our story takes a turn when the emperor at the time, Claudius II (more commonly called Claudius the Cruel) decided that in order to make more men join the army, all marriages were to be banned. According to the emperor, the army was small because men were too focused upon their wives & families. In my personal opinion, it seems a bit as though Claudius needed a little love in his own life.
Anyway, Valentine disagreed with Emperor Claudius's philosophy & acted upon his own beliefs. In short, he kept marrying young couples who wanted to get married because of the value in Christian marriage. He saw the injustice in the emperor's decree & he continued doing what he knew to be right. Most unfortunately, Valentine's actions were discovered & made known to the emperor who sentenced Valentine to death for his disobedience. On February 14, in approximately the year 278AD, Valentine was executed & thus became a martyr.
There are many more elements to the basic story that the years have added & embellished. Many versions tell of a young girl, the jailer's daughter, who befriended Valentine as he awaited his death. When he was taken away on his last day, he left behind a note that was signed, "from your Valentine." Clearly this is where the tradition of writing Valentine's to loved ones originates.
One of the most interesting things about the Saint Valentine of February 14 is that he may have been more than one person. The name "Valentine" in Latin means "strong" or "worthy" & thus makes a fitting moniker for any martyr. Different accounts tell different stories & it appears as though there are multiple people called Valentine who were executed by Claudius II in different parts of the Roman empire. As there were several martyrs around the time of the legendary Saint Valentine, his identity & origin are more than a little unclear.
Regardless, Saint Valentine remains celebrated hundreds of years later on February 14; or should I say, the values & beliefs for which he died remain celebrated. So then, today I would challenge you to think about that a little as you pen a love letter to your sweetheart. Remember the story behind a day that can far too often end up commercialized & cheapened & remember how love is far more than getting flowers or going on a date.
Happy Valentine's Day!
history major & lover of on-sale Valentine's candy