Valentine's Day- A commercial ploy, a romantic fallacy, or a heartwarming holiday?
This weekend, we all had the opportunity to celebrate St. Valentine's day on Sunday. Amidst the Olympics and other distractions, many couples took the time to go out for a fancy dinner or share a special night at home. My biggest question is why- so I decided to do a little digging. The history channel's website proposes a number of theories for the holiday's origins, ranging from a portrayal of Valentine as a rebellious romantic to a Christian cover-up of a Pagan fertility festival.
Theory Number 1: St. Valentine, the Rebel:
"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 — his crop of potential soldiers. 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."
This story backs the holiday's promotion of finding your true love, as Valentine became a martyr for defending marriage. This story explains both why it is so vital to pair up with someone for the holiday, and why Valentine could have been canonized, but it lacks a specific reason for importance. Why would one man's defiance of a cold-hearted king balloon into such a big deal? This story seems to lack the historic importance of most holiday stories.
Theory Number 2: Valentine, the loving convict:
"According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor's daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today."
This story has even less importance than the first theory. While it is an extremely histrionic and romantic story, I fail to see any reason that this is worthy of recognition beyond a simple story of his act. The bottom line is this: what did this man actually do to deserve such a large holiday?
Theory Number 3:
"...others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to 'christianize' celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival."
This theory reeks of conspiracy, but it seems slightly more valid to me in that it concedes that the date was chosen arbitrarily. This makes more sense to me. The Christian church, wanting to stamp out the rabid paganism of the February fertility festival, created a holiday emphasizing monogamy and love, not lust.
The bottom line is that no one really knows the origins of this holiday. Obviously, it's been greatly overdone and has been made an increasingly important event by companies like Hallmark, who have a vested capitalist interest in holidays.
"According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year."
However, what sets this holiday apart is how arbitrarily and yet generally accepted it is. With most other holidays, people understand the reason they are celebrating, when, and why, but no one has a clue when it comes to Valentines. Sure, most people understand that Thanksgiving celebrates the success of the Pilgrims and Christmas marks Jesus' birthday, but when it comes to Valentines, it's harder to justify. All we know is that we've all been told we need to take someone on a date, buy them roses and chocolate and dinner, act as romantically as we possibly can, and hope that our hard work is appreciated. Most people seem to have a fairly singular goal on this holiday. Maybe we haven't come all that far from the pagan festival after all.
All quotes from