Friday, February 10, 2012


It is quite easy in these modern times to believe that Valentine’s Day is merely another overly commercialized, overly materialistic day for retailers to persuade us to part with money we don’t have in order to prove to another how much we may love them. (There’s some heavy cynicism for you if ever I heard any.) But as an author of historical fiction, I thought it prudent to take a look back to what began all this hoopla, that such a review might be beneficial in dispelling such skepticism. What I found was a plethora of theories, saints and martyrs, and as we’re dealing with an occurrence that began in ancient times, there is, of course, versions of both the Pagan and the Christian variety. And yet most of the stories speak of sacrifice and commitment of the heart till it stopped beating, possessing the ability to make even this disparaging heart utter a pathetic, ‘awwww.’

In ancient Rome, February 14th was a day set aside to honor Juno, known most frequently as the Queen of Gods and Goddesses, but also as the Goddesses of women and marriage. This theoretical genesis is also associated with the festival of Lupercalia, a series of holidays devoted to fertility and love. But to me there is nothing more to this theory than a figurehead for the loveless to prostrate themselves upon.

Then there are the martyrs. The Catholic Church formally recognizes three different saints by the nomenclature of Valentine. The most prevalent (and my personal favorite) is of a priest who lived during the third century, when Rome was ruled by the cruel Emperor Claudius II, a ruler who believed single men made better soldiers than those who were married (perhaps this is when the whole 'sex makes your legs weak' notion began) and therefore outlawed such couplings for those in his military. This particular Valentine refused to accept such a heartless contention and married love-struck soldiers in secret. In reward for his kindness, Father Valentine was apprehended on February 14, beaten to death with clubs and beheaded.

There are other stories of the same ilk, but they don’t seem to inspire quite the appropriate nuance of the holiday. To do so, I offer this theory.

There was a man by the name of Valentine, a man of kind heart and religious impartiality, who was incarcerated by the Pagans for helping Christians escape the harsh Roman prisons. While an outlandish hypothesis postulates that he performed a miracle and gave site to the warden’s daughter, the more easily believed theory was that he fell in love with her, spending much of his time in conversation with the girl as well as sending her many love letters, all of which he signed, “Your Valentine.”

The first reference to Valentine’s Day as we know it today, as a day to honor romantic love, comes from one of my idols, Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote, “For this was on seynt Volantynys day, Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.” ("For this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.") And so was born a subject far too appealing for purveyors of the pen to ignore and was quickly the topic of many a prolific author, including Shakespeare and one duc d’Orleans.

In summation, the most certain conclusion I come away with on the genesis of Valentine’s Day is that it is as muddled as the concept of the emotion that it celebrates. But this I do know, yet I will not take credit for expressing it, but will use the words of my ‘first love’ (I was eight), I will use the words of John Lennon. Whether it be between a man and a woman, a man and a man, a woman and a woman, a parent and a child, a friend and a friend…"all you need is love."

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