By Michael Connor
Love is a universal feeling that connects people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds. It’s a sensation like no other, while also being a selfless choice.
On Feb. 14 every year, we get to celebrate this amazing gift called love. Valentine’s Day is a tradition embraced by many people and while having strong historical roots, is very much a contemporary holiday.
The holiday’s namesake, St. Valentine of Catholic tradition, is a mysterious figure historically. According to the History Channel’s webpage, three patron saints under the name Valentine may have existed. Different legends or stories have been passed down about St. Valentine’s story and why the holiday celebrating romance is named after him.
One such story described St. Valentine as a priest who secretly offered marriages to couples during Emperor Claudius II’s ban on marriage in third century Rome. The Emperor had concluded that single men were more effective and more willing soldiers if they were not married and had families. St. Valentine was executed for his disobedience to the Emperor’s law. If this story is true, what a fitting namesake!
The History Channel also offered other explanations. Some scholars have argued that Valentine’s Day was actually named after bishop Saint Valentine of Terni, who also was executed by Claudius II. Another story about St. Valentine suggests that he was a prisoner who sent a note of affection with the lovefelt closing “From your Valentine” to a young woman who visited him during his time in jail before he was executed. This closing is commonplace among modern participants in the Valentine’s Day holiday.
The reasoning of Valentine’s Day’s date is also historically debatable. The History Channel points out that some historians have argued that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in February because it was the month St. Valentine died or was laid to rest.
Other scholars have suggested the more likely explanation that Valentine’s Day was an attempt made by Christians to alter and reinvent Lupercalia, a pagan tradition which occurred annually on Feb. 15. Lupercalia eventually became illegal, and the Catholic Church under Pope Gelasius officially established Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14.
With regards to the now iconic “Valentine’s” gift or card, an in-person greeting of affection had long historical roots dating back to the Middle Ages. Valentine’s notes and letters became first recorded during the 15th century. A valentine written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his beloved wife in 1415 is the longest surviving Valentine’s Day artifact. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, commercial Valentine’s Day cards and notes in the United States were first offered in the mid-nineteenth century.
As exemplified by the numerous legends and historical debates, Valentine’s Day has a unique and mystifying history. As the holiday grew in popularity, it became a cultural phenomenon in America. From school children passing out candy valentines to fellow students, to boyfriends creating elaborate, well thought out Valentine gifts for their girlfriends, Valentine’s Day has become a lucrative business.
I’d like to offer some personal reflections on Valentine’s Day. Others I’m sure can relate, but I remember going shopping with my mom as a young elementary student purchasing themed Valentine’s candies such as Marvel characters or the latest kids movie to pass out to classmates at the Valentine’s Day class party. Such warm memories bring back a sense of childhood and innocence.
No matter how one participates in Valentine’s Day, the holiday’s theme is imperative to reflect on and celebrate. Loving yourself and loving others is so important.
As we celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, let’s remember to call our loved ones and our friends and share with them how much they mean to us. If you’re in a relationship, express your love for your girlfriend or boyfriend and celebrate the beautiful connection you share.
Love in all its forms from family to friendships to romantic relationships is the greatest gift life can bestow. While we celebrate this gift globally on Feb. 14, it should be celebrated every day. Every day filled with love is a reminder of the welcoming and embraceful human spirit.
Michael Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org