Valentine’s Day is what we make it
No, it’s true. Take off your romance- or cynicism-colored glasses, and listen up. I know many of us have horror stories about the Big V; maybe you’re lonely and call it Singles Awareness Day. Maybe you despair at the media onslaught of SUPER ROMANCE DAY sold you about February 14th. On the other hand, maybe all your Valentine’s Days have been all chocolate and roses and cupid-covered cards. Maybe you’ve always had someone to hold your hand.
That’s not all Valentine’s Day can be. It’s doesn’t have to be loneliness vs. coupledom. Check out this radical idea: Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love - in all forms. Brotherly and sisterly? You got it. Friendship? Definitely. Romantic? Get in here. Self-love? Honey, TREAT YO’SELF.
“But wasn’t Valentine’s Day always about romantic love, or whatever?” I hear you ask. Nope. In fact, we can probably blame Chaucer for that one - he was one of the first to write about St. Valentine’s Day and romance. Let’s look at the history.
Valentine’s Day probably has a partial origin in an ancient - maybe even pre-Roman - festival called Lupercalia. Celebrated in mid-February, this “Wolf Festival” was both a spring-cleansing and fertility ritual. Major features of the festival included a sacrifice of two goats, feasting, and young men running mostly naked through town. The streaking wasn’t just for fun, mind you - they carried hide thongs with them and whipped the hands of any women they passed. Allegedly, this ensured maidens became fertile, while pregnant women were guaranteed an easy birth.
That’s a far cry from a romantic dinner at a swanky restaurant. In fact, there’s no hint of Eros here; just a bad day to be a goat and a focus on reproduction.
As so many pagan festivals have been, Lupercalia may have been painted over with Christian celebrations. It generally starts with such rituals being outlawed, but regular people still practicing their old beliefs. Their attention needs to be shifted to another celebratory purpose: let’s meet St. Valentine.
A trio of St. Valentines
The story goes that the 5th century Pope - that’s Pope Gelasius I - pronounced that February 14th would celebrate the Saint Valentine. The only problem here is that there may be three Valentines who were canonized as saints by the church - and no one now living knows which St. Valentine we’re meant to celebrate. Especially since all three of them seem to have met bloody ends on February 14th. (And you thought My Bloody Valentine was just a movie and/or band.)
One Valentine was a bishop in Italy, and another a saint who died in Africa - little known of him but his name. The third Valentine was a Roman priest, and he’s the one who generally gets the special day according to the Catholic church. He enjoys such symbols as birds and roses, and is listed as the patron saint of happy marriages and love (along with epilepsy and beekeepers). He was also martyred by being beaten and beheaded for refusing to stop sharing his faith.
So far, this holiday has been about cleansing, fertility, and being true to your faith. Still not really romantic, right? It’s almost as if this romance angle was completely made up.
Did you say commercialism?
We already talked about Chaucer making up the connection of romantic love to St. Valentine’s Day in the 14th century; the connection appears in his poem “The Parlement of Foules”. The romantic angle caught on, propagated by poets and Shakespeare. Four hundred years later, young lovers were using February 14 to exchange elaborate cards, gifts of sweets and flowers, and declarations of love. The cards, of course, became known as “Valentines.”
Fast-forward to America in the mid-1800s: thanks to mass-production, these Valentines explode in popularity. Chocolate showed up to the party at this point as well, when Richard Cadbury had the brilliant idea to make decorative keepsake boxes for their chocolates - all featuring popular Valentine’s Day symbols, naturally. It was only a matter of time before all the other candies showed up, before all these mass-produced treats became affordable to more people, and before Valentine’s Day became the commercial spectacle of romantic love we know today.
Valentines Day is what we make it
And there’s your proof: Valentine’s Day is what we make it. Don’t be suckered into feeling bad (or feeling superior) based on your romantic status on February 14th. Got siblings? Celebrate that love. A best friend? Send them something sweet. Are you aromantic? Hang out with someone you care about and be as platonic as you want.
Eat together, braid each other’s hair, do something fun, go to a movie - you don’t have to buy into the prevailing culture. Remember what Lin Manuel Miranda from the hit musical Hamilton said - “Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love…”
Now, go out and celebrate it!