We do it because we want to show we care. We do it because we’ve always done it. We do it because everyone does it. If you’re like most people, you don’t think about Valentine’s Day beyond the task of doing what’s expected of us. There are people we love in our lives, and we’re happy to show it.
As a country, we don’t disappoint either: Sales of this year’s chocolates, cards and related “romantica” are projected to amount to over $20 billion in the US alone. Exactly why we all do this year after year is a question that surprisingly few can answer. So we spend tens of billions on a single day, year after year, for reasons almost no one can explain. Sounds like all the hallmarks (pun intended) of a blog to me.
Valentine’s Day has its origins in courtly love, of course. There is a St. Valentine of Rome. In fact, there were at least three saints named Valentine or Valentinus who were once recognized by the Catholic Church. Nobody knows if they’re the same person, so today there’s just one Roman priest from the 3rd century who gets the nod.
There are several accounts of his requisite martyrdom, most of which have love figuring prominently. One account is based on Emperor Claudius Gothicus (aka Claudius II) outlawing marriage so that the empire could have more eligible, unattached, young warriors. A maverick and Roman priest, Valentine refused to stop joining couples in matrimony, which led him to pay the ultimate price outside the Flaminian Gate on February 14th, most likely in the year 269.
Claudius II had a real problem with St. Valentine’s faith, so another account has him imprisoning Valentine after refusing to renounce his religion. Legend has it that while in prison, he healed the jailor’s blind daughter. On the day of his execution, he wrote the young girl a card signed with the now-familiar words: “Your Valentine.”
Many believe the struggle between Christianity and competing practices may also account for the selection of mid-February for the day of lovers. This was when Rome traditionally celebrated Lupercalia, a fertility ritual lasting several days where men would sacrifice a goat and dog over three days of men and women engaging in drunken debauchery. Pope Gelasius I, who reigned at the very end of the 5th century, gets the credit for scheduling Valentine’s Day in February to overshadow and, ultimately, replace Lupercalia.
Lupercalia may be long gone, but it can feel like some of the madness of that pagan ritual lives on at flower stands, malls, convenience stores, and anywhere fatigued, dutiful shoppers converge on the evening of February 14th. The fear of showing up empty-handed is palpable. We’ve all been there. The good news is that gestures come in all sizes, including reading a blog and learning a bit about this special day, then sharing that knowledge with someone you care about over dinner.
Happy Valentine’s Day to our friends, our family, and our fans. We love you more than you know.