We just seem to recover from the onslaught of holidays: Hallowed E’en, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, when another looms before us: Valentine’s Day. It is celebrated in many countries around the world, yet it is a “working holiday” in most of them. In the USA it is celebrated on February 14th each year. Saint Valentine’s Day began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. Several martyrdom stories were passed down by word of mouth for the various Valentines that belonged to Feb. 14th, and later added to martyrologies. According to the martryologies, there are three Valentines, all of them martyrs. The first was a priest of Rome. A popular effusive story is of this Valentine. He was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry by Claudius the Cruel in that time, and for ministering to Christians who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. The legend asserts that during his imprisonment, he fell in love with and healed the blind daughter of his jailer, Asterius. Before his execution, Valentine wrote a letter to Asterius’s daughter signing it ” From Your Valentine” as a farewell. The second is the Hieromartyr Valentine, the Bishop of Interamna (Modern day Terni, Italy). He was beheaded by Placidus, the Prefect of Interamna, and his relics are kept in a basilica in Terni that honors this Valentine as its Patron Saint. The belief is that he dedicated his life to the Christian community of Terni, becoming the town’s first bishop. He was murdered on Feb. 14th on the Via Falminia, and his body swiftly and secretly buried there to prevent a Christian uprising. Three of his disciples located the body and moved the remains to Terni where it is kept in a sacred place. Although the town of Terni hosts festivals, fairs and cultural events every year on the 14th, this Valentine is honored by the Eastern Orthodox Church on July 30th. However, the Eastern Orthodox Church also celebrates Valentine’s Day on July 6th in honor of the Roman presbyter. Not much is known about the third martyred Valentine who was in the Roman Province of Africa. The Roman priest, and the Bishop of Interamna are believed to have suffered in the second half of the third century. The Roman saint was executed on Feb. 14th, and his relics are housed in the Church of Saint Praxed in Rome. Today St. Valentine’s Day is an official feast day in the communion of the Anglican Church, as well as the Lutheran Church. In Brazil, Dia de Sao Valentim is observed on June 12th.
Valentine’s Day was first associated with romantic love during Geoffrey Chaucer’s time in the High Middle Ages when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In England’s 18th century, it evolved into an occasion where lovers expressed their ardour for each other by presenting flowers, proffering confectionery, and posting cards (known as valentines). Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have mostly been replaced with mass produced, manufactured cards. Symbols used to represent valentines are heart shaped outlines, winged cupids, and doves, all of which are more or less embellished for the festive day. Since Valentine’s Day has come to mean showing a special appreciation for a loved one, cupid has naturally been associated with it. In classical mythology Cupid, from the Latin cupido meaning “desire”, is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction, and affection. He is often portrayed as the son of the goddess Venus, and is also know in Latin as Amor (“love”). In Greek mythology he is known as Eros. Although in classical Greek art Eros is shown as a thin winged youth, during the Hellenistic period he was increasingly portrayed as a chubby boy. It was during this time that he acquired his bow and arrows, the source of his power. A person or deity who is struck by one of cupid’s arrows is filled with uncontrollable desire. Thus cupid is an icon of Valentine’s Day depicted in modern popular culture drawing his bow to inspire romantic love. Doves,usually white in color, are used as the symbol of love, peace, and as messengers. A short step to Valentine’s Day, they bring the message of peace and love to your beloved. The heart, of course, is the seat of love so it’s no wonder it has become a valentine icon.
Now that you have some conversational background, it’s time to make plans for your own love affair. Make dinner plans, ask that girl or guy you fell head and heels over to marry you, arm yourself with the courage in cupid’s arrow to approach that person you are interested in and ask for an unforgettable date. Don’t forget your Mom & Dad, your siblings, even your friends that you’re thinking of them on that special day. Pass the love around. Better still, spread the love around every day!