Raise your hand if you think you hate Valentine’s Day. Now put it down if what you really hate are those chalk-tasting, pastel-colored heart candies inscribed with cheesy messages like “Be Mine” and “I Luv You”. And rest your arm if you if your aversion to Cupid is at all related to an unrequited love experience that occurred before the end of high school (it’s really time to get over it).
Sure, the commercialization of Valentine’s Day borders on the obscene. Today, the number of Valentine’s Day cards sold (over 1 billion annually) is second only to Christmas cards. Go into any grocery store, drugstore, gift shop or even 7-Eleven and you’ll be bombarded with cards and candies, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, and teddy bears obnoxiously tied in red and pink bows.
And yes, Cupid’s arrow does not always hit exactly where we would like it to land. But show me a person who hasn’t been through heartbreak, and I will show you someone who can’t truly appreciate the joys of being in love.
For those of you with a hand still raised as high and straight as a Baker Scholar’s, I’d like to offer you a few thoughts on the modern relevance of Valentine’s Day. Ironically, I will start with history to do so, as the origins of Valentine’s Day are much substantial than the paper hearts and guilt-driven flower purchases we associate the holiday with today.
In fact, the correct name for February the 14th is St. Valentine’s Day, though the true identity of St. Valentine remains something of a mystery.
According the History Channel, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. The most popular origin of the holiday credits a third century Roman priest named Valentine who performed secret marriage ceremonies after the Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men (having determined that single men made better soldiers). When Valentine’s actions were discovered, he was condemned to death.
Legend further contends that while awaiting his execution in prison, Valentine fell in love with the daughter of his jailor who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, he allegedly wrote her a letter and signed it ‘From your Valentine’ which led to the modern tradition of sending cards and even of using the same expression.
Why should this bit of history, nay lore, affect our modern views on Valentine’s Day?
For one, it’s worth noting that unlike Sweetest Day or other such holidays invented by greeting card companies, Valentine’s Day carries a rich history and traditions. Throughout centuries past, both Pagans and Christians held a number of rituals to celebrate love; as such, by the Middle Ages St. Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and throughout Europe.
It’s also worth reflecting on our ability to choose our partners and to express love, something that we can do in modern society more freely than at any other time in history (I myself doubt that I would be married today if my negative dowry of student loans were a consideration).
Rather than relying on politics or parental preference or royal decree, most of us are able to accept or reject love on our own terms. So if your still in the mood to burn pink hearts and tear out the eyes of all the stuffed animals wearing ridiculous red sweaters, revel for just a moment in the fact that you’re not likely to be beheaded for refusing to marry your sworn enemy.
Besides its historical significance, Valentine’s Day has produced a few modern traditions that are noteworthy. Remember in elementary school when you would decorate a shoebox and pass out Valentine’s to all of your classmates? And you would write something nice in each card to every one in your class? Right about now, after enduring the agonizing process of interviews and dings, many of your classmates could use a little bit of this love. Better yet, send an anonymous greeting to someone who you know could use a little pick-me-up.
To me, that’s what makes this holiday relevant. It’s not about chocolates, or flowers, or gifts, or even about being in love – it’s just about sharing love and recognizing the best in people around you. So whether you have a date this Valentine’s Day or will be spending it with friends, use the day to take a chance, to make someone feel special, and to show some love to those that you care for most. I think you’ll then find that Valentine’s Day isn’t so bad after all.
Editor In Chief