Yup. It’s Valentine’s Day. One of our strangest “holidays” and always filled with mixed emotions. A red, white and pink day filled with chocolates, teddy bears, cards, roses and the opportunity to openly profess your relationship status to the masses. There is that quiet, unspoken competition between couples in that timeless, “so what did you guys do for Valentine’s Day?”kind of way. And for those of us who find ourselves *GASP* single on Valentine’s Day we are forced to either proclaim our righteous independence, or our mind numbing loneliness.
But do we even have any idea WHY we celebrate Valentines Day? Like most holidays, there seems to be both a religious (in this case, Christian) and pagan (in this case Roman) tradition. The Catholic church actually recognizes 3 different saints both named Valentine / Valentinus, who had more than just their names and faith in common – they were also martyrs. How very “ROME-antic”. One Saint Valentine is said to have been a champion for young soldiers wishing to wed. He preformed secret ceremonies for the soldiers and their lovers during a time in the Roman Empire when marriage was banned for military members. When Emperor Claudius learned of these secret matrimonial activities, he ordered Valentine to be put to death. Another myth portrays an imprisoned Valentine, who sent the first “Valentine” in the form of a small letter to a young women he fell in love with during his incarceration. It is said he signed this letter “From your Valentine”, which is the tradition that is still carried on today. Whichever story is most historically accurate seems to be quite erroneous as Saint Valentine’s tendency toward tenderness, sympathy, and romance have resulted in his enormous fame.
On the other side of this holiday history, is the pagan fertility festival, Lupercalia. Held annually on the ides of February (14th/15th) it was a huge celebration in dedication to the Roman God of agriculture, Faunus, as well as the two Roman founders Romulus and Remus. To begin the ceremony, a special sect of Roman priests (called the Luperci) would gather in the sacred cave where legend told that Romulus and Remus were cared for by a she-wolf.
The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. Because of the goat’s “fertility powers”, its hide was then cut into strips and dipped in the sacrificial blood. These pieces of blood soaked hides were then brought back into the village where the priests would use these strips to “gently” (I use parenthesis because how can we know for certain that it was gentle… and the definition of gentle can greatly differ from person to person) slap the Roman women. Before you get defensive, they didn’t ONLY coat the women in goat’s blood, they also “gently” slapped the fields! So you know, both may swell with their… bounty and fulfill their communal purpose? It has been recorded that later in this same day the women would gather and place each of their names in a large urn, which the city bachelors would then draw a name from. These “fate pairings” bound the two together for a year, but most of these relationships resulted in marriages.
I guess it’s pretty obvious which tradition continued and which was nixed due to it’s “un-Christian” requirements at the end of the 5th Century. However, Valentine’s Day was not associated directly with LOVE until the Middle Ages, where February 14th started to become commonly known in France and England to be the beginning of birds’ mating season. From this hatched (get it?!) the concept of love birds, romance, and the rest is basically history.
Although Valentine’s Day was being celebrated as a romantic day from the Middle Ages onwards, it wasn’t until 1400 that written love declarations started to appear (gotta think education had a little something to do with that).
The oldest known Valentine’s letter was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, in 1415 to his wife during his imprisonment in the Tower of London. He wrote:
Go Forth My Heart
Loke that we spare no business
To serve her with such lowliness,
That ye get her grace and mercy.Pray her of times prively
That she keep trewly her promise
Go forthI must as a hertless body
Abide alone in hevyness,
And ye shal do wel with your maistress
In plesans glad and mery. pleasure
It is interesting to that the written word was often times our only means of truly communicating our feelings, especially during social settings, cast systems, etc. which discouraged and sometimes even forbade people to speak to one another. But this pure-hearted notion soon became the exact tool which pushed Valentine’s Day to become the commercial heavy weight that it is today. How so, dear lover? Well, it all started to really kick off in the 19oo’s when printed cards started taking the place of handwritten notes due to the improvements made in printing technologies. Ready-made cards made it even that much easier to express your emotions than ever before, pair that up with the decreased postage rates at the time and you’ve got yourself a simmering stew of commercial success. (Pst, did you know that an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year?! Making V-Day second only to Christmas (2.6 billion cards), and of that 1 billion, 85% of the people buying Valentine’s cards are women.)
As commercial as this day has become, I can’t help but find myself not really minding. I definitely don’t feel that it’s just a day for couples, but rather a day where you can find awesome cheesy cards/photos/ecards/whatever, and find a fun way to tell the people in your life that you love them. Yes, yes yes, of course I think that you should tell people you love them and cherish your friends and family and don’t just wait for one day where you feel socially forced to do something “thoughtful”. But isn’t it a little extreme to be one of those people who proclaims we should treat EVERY DAY like it’s Valentine’s Day ?
Love is all around us, whether it’s with our families, our friends, our partners, our children, even our pets. We must absolutely take every chance we can to tell the people we care about how we feel because too often than not, life is too short and our greatest regrets when we lose someone can be what our last words were. I hope for me and for everyone that I love, and for everyone out there, that as often as possible, the last words they say to their loved ones when they part ways is “I Love You”. I don’t believe that it is an expression that can be over used. I don’t think saying you love something or you love someone makes the word lose its meaning. I hope I can continue to proclaim my love for EVERYTHING in my life.
I know better than most that life isn’t always easy, and it certainly isn’t fair, but if we spend more time looking around ourselves and taking the time to really think about what we’re thankful for, what we have, who we have in our lives, and what they bring out in us, hopefully the good will always out weigh the bad. And after all, didn’t John Lennon say, “Love Is All You Need”?!
A bell is no bell ’til you ring it,
A song is no song ’til you sing it,
And love in your heart
Wasn’t put there to stay –
Love isn’t love
‘Til you give it away.
– Oscar Hammerstein, Sound of Music, You Are Sixteen
Staying far never breaks relation, staying near never builds relation.
Its a link between hearts, which never allows us to forget each other.
Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze.
– Elynor Glyn
There is no remedy for love but to love more.
Love is a perfume you cannot pour onto others without getting a few drops on yourself.
‘Tis sweet to know there is an eye will mark our coming, and look brighter when we come.
– Lord Byron
Love is when you can be your true self with someone, and you only want to be your true self because of them.
– Terri Guillemets
So this Valentine’s Day I say, CELEBRATE! Celebrate your wacky love, celebrate your friends, your family, your self, YOUR LIFE! Don’t just love your partner, love everything! Spend the day really thinking about the good you have in your life and all of the love you send out and receive in your day to day. Think of your life, not just one person, not just one thing, but the all encompassing spirit of what it truly means to love and be loved.