St. Valentine’s Day began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. The most popular story associated with Saint Valentine was that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. During his imprisonment, he is said to have healed the daughter of his own jailer Asterius. Legend states that before his execution he wrote “from your Valentine” as a farewell to her. Today, Saint Valentine’s Day is an official feast day in the Anglican Communion, as well as in the Lutheran Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church also celebrates Saint Valentine’s Day, albeit on July 6th.
The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. By the 15th century, it had evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”).
Every year Valentine’s Day becomes a little more popular, and while the cynic attributes this entirely to advertizing, I would argue that if you are advertizing dog-poop popsicles, you wont get very far. . . No one wants a dog-poop popsicle.
There has to be some sort of desire in the first place, and by that standard, I am encouraged by the growing popularity of Valentine’s Day. I see the current trend as a continuing evolution of the holiday towards the original focus of the real St. Valentine.
That may sound absurd to some, but I think St. Valentinus was a man of Selfless Giving. In the earlier years this was interpreted and celebrated as bitter Self Sacrifice and strict Self Denial. Later the holiday became celebrated with an expression of love between couples and sweethearts, loosening the self denial into a sense of giving and a romantic longing for union.
In the current day and age we are seeing a broadening of that sense of giving and caring. More and more people are giving gifts to other family members. People may treat their friends to dinner or a show. Teachers may get 30 or more valentines any given year. This looks to some like bold faced consumerism, but I think it serves a broader purpose and reflects a genuine change in western culture. We are becoming more accepting of opportunities to show care and appreciation for the people in our lives.
Advertizing doesn’t force people to give their children’s crossing guard a thank you, but people are doing it anyway. The purely romantic love of yesteryear’s Valentine’s Day, which was driven by egocentric aspirations (trying to get loved back) is now expanding to include a more general sense of love and appreciation for others.
Our culture has offered us an opportunity to enjoy and participate in the spreading of love, and we have embraced that! I think that’s exciting! So this Valentine’s Day, join the growing consensus that an excuse to spread love is exactly what this world needs. Share your greatest gift; share your love and attention!
Happy Valentine’s Day!