Rethinking the Day of Romance

Ah, Valentine’s Day. The one time of the year for couples to fully express their most extreme public display of affection in front of all those who dare to look. Meanwhile, your local singles try to go about the day as normally as possible, without eating too much chocolate.

I used to also feel cynical about the holiday. But learning about the history of the holiday changed my mind about this topic.

Ironically enough, the original ancient Roman celebrations in mid-February were actually quite bloody and violent. According to NPR, during “Lupercalia”, a festival celebrating the arrival of spring, goats and dogs would be sacrificed and skinned. Then, women would be hit with the hides.

I’m sure this seems like a disgusting mess to you but, back then, women would actually line up to partake in this process, as they were convinced this ritual would increase their fertility.

The origin of the name Valentine’s Day as we now know it comes from a slightly less disturbing background, although the truth behind the story is still disputed today and much of it is a rosy, embellished legend.  

Back in the third-century, ancient Roman emperor Claudius II banned marriage because he believed that single men made better soldiers. According to historical legend, a Roman Catholic priest, later known as St. Valentine, began illegally officiating marriages to counter this.

The idea of marriage, at the time, was regarded as a highly sacred act. When marriage was outlawed, many looked to the church for a solution. As a representative of the church, St. Valentine had the opportunity to provide an answer to the people’s problems, which is exactly what he did.

By unifying people who were in love, St. Valentine played a risky game. If his mission was exposed, he would face death. But he continued anyway, risking his own life to marry couples without the knowledge of the emperor and without care for the consequences.

In the end, St. Valentine met the same fate as many tragic rebel-heroes in history and was eventually caught, jailed and tortured for his efforts. Tragically, St. Valentine fell in love with the daughter of one of the jail wardens and left her a note signed “love, your Valentine” (I bet you can guess which tradition is said to have started as a result of that note.) Eventually according to some versions of the legend, their love story reached a tragic end, as Valentine was martyred, later becoming the patron saint of love, which is why today we celebrate Valentine’s Day in his name.

Knowing the legend about the origins of Valentine’s Day now, I feel much better than I did before. The transformation between the original celebrations of the holiday and what it represents today provides a valuable example of how something gory and violent can evolve into a day full of hope and love.

And if I’m being honest, my opinion of Valentine’s Day has often been biased — mostly because the holiday can be isolating to those who don’t identify as gender binary, and it’s often seen as a superficial holiday solely for the purpose of giving the chocolate and floral industries a boost.

But underneath all those prejudices, the holiday is truly a space to honor a man who did so much for our perception of marriage and love today.

Personally, I’ve never celebrated Valentine’s Day with a special someone but, despite that, I find myself still able to appreciate the holiday for what it is, mostly only because my parents send me a box of chocolate.

Even if you run into two lovebirds that you’d rather not witness getting lost in each other’s eyes this Valentine’s Day, I beg you, turn that annoyance into something positive and think of St. Valentine and all that he did for love. And to all you lovebirds out there, eat some candy or buy a rose for the priest who acted solely out of love, without knowing that he would leave an impact for centuries to come.

If you’re like me and you find yourself without a significant other this Valentine’s Day, never fear because there are other ways to celebrate. And if worse comes to worst, you can always join me and my candy.

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