I am just going to say it: Valentine’s Day is a made-up holiday. There’s no definitive history on which St. Valentine we are celebrating as St. Valentine’s day was likely another effort of early Christianity to turn Pagan Celebrations into Christian ones.
The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.
Perhaps we are celebrating a man who covertly performed marriage ceremonies for those who were not allowed to wed (and if that’s the case then today I will celebrate and honor all those for whom marriage equality is still a fight – those who have been told that their love is wrong and that their love is less than). Perhaps we are celebrating a doomed man who fell in love with a girl and just had to tell her.
I am celebrating Valentine’s Day reading a Romance Novel and baking chocolate cupcakes because anytime I celebrate anything books and chocolate are involved.
When doing research for this post I discovered that celebrating love in the name of Valentine goes back further in history than I knew. It became a holiday in the 5th Century : “Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine’s didn’t begin to appear until after 1400.”
The oldest surviving Valentine was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans in 1415. After being captured in the Battle of Agincourt he was sent to the Tower of London where he wrote the following poem to his wife, Bonne of Armagnac:
My very gentle Valentine,history.com
Since for me you were born too soon,
And I for you was born too late.
God forgives him who has estranged
Me from you for the whole year.
I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine.
I may not be a Valentine’s Day fan, and I might say things like “Valentine’s Day is a made-up holiday”. But I think celebrating Love is more important than a one day celebration. We should celebrate all the love we have everyday. To my family and my friends I say : I love you. I love you more than I can say. My heart is full and my universe is better because I have you in my life.