In a country where cohabitation is seen as an acceptable temporary alternative to marriage, divorce rates are high, and abusive relationships fill celebrity news shows, it seems almost ironic to celebrate a holiday dedicated to “love.” I am of course alluding to that most romantic of days, Valentine’s Day.
It is defined in the dictionary as “a day for the exchange of valentines and other tokens of affection.” And if there’s one thing Americans are good at, it’s spending money, especially on valentines and tokens of affection. Our exuberance can be seen in the fact that we spend more than $1 billion dollars on candy, send more than 1 billion cards, and purchase around 200 million roses in celebration of Feb. 14. It might also interest you to know that condom sales are 25 percent higher in February and March sees a rise in the purchasing of home pregnancy kits. Interesting? Maybe, maybe not.
What I do find interesting is that the holiday meant to celebrate the lives of those we love, the time we’ve had with them, and the time we hope to have with them in the future, is actually named after a martyr. Like a Shakespearian tragedy, love and death are resolutely tied together in the history of Valentine’s Day.
Enter St. Valentine, our day’s glorious hero. It is believed that Valentine was a Roman priest who served in the third century during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. The Emperor, for one reason or another, came to the decision that single men made better soldiers and therefore outlawed marriage in the hopes of building a grand army. Valentine, who we could assume was a stout believer in the power of love, continued to perform secret marriages despite the Emperor’s decree. It is not known how long the rebel priest continued his practice, but around 270 A.D. Claudius II discovered his actions and ordered him put to death.
It is said that while awaiting his demise, the incarcerated saint-to-be sent the first Valentine’s Day card to a young girl signing it “From your Valentine,” an expression we still use in our modern day greeting cards.
Later on, Valentine got a day named after him because he understood and represented the ideal of love. I would like you to pause a moment in your reading and think about the person you will be giving a valentine to. Does the word love even apply? Or maybe a better question would be, how far are you willing to go for another person?
Shakespeare isn’t the only place that death and love are irrevocably intertwined. Storybooks have told us that the greatest length you can go to prove your love is to face death for the beloved. The Bible itself states that “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Perhaps the point of Valentine’s Day is to remind us what love really is.
Despite society’s best efforts to convince us otherwise, love is not about how much money we spend, how much sex we have, or how many sweet phrases we rehearse in the mirror. Love is about deeply caring about another person and being willing to sacrifice and compromise during every day of a relationship. Valentine’s Day merely serves as a reminder of how we are to love one another. And especially during these days of “hook-up” culture, divorce, and abuse, we could stand to be reminded of what we are seemingly losing sight of, the meaning of true love.