February 14th approaches. And we all know what that means, don’t we? Valentine’s Day is on the horizon. Although the impending holiday, or, more accurately, the impending social custom is well-known and both loved and hated by virtually everyone in contemporary society with moderate social contact and that is of age with requisite comprehension, Valentine’s Day and its origins are rather mysterious. Sure, we all know Cupid – the Roman mythical god portrayed as the heavyset child with wings who commands a bow and his arrows that impress and excite love in those whom are struck by them – and we are well aware, at times forcibly so, of the arguably and seemingly required sentiments, candies, and gifts that are exchanged in celebration of this pervasive custom, but what of its beginnings, its pioneers, its formative circumstances… its legend?
Valentine’s Day has multiple origin stories which contributes to its inherent mystery. Perhaps most prevalent of all, however, is the tale(s) of Saint Valentine that seem to succeed tradition. As described on History, Valentine was a religious figure, or multiple figures to some accounts, in the Roman empire. Valentine, or the Valentines, was/were disobedient of the Roman emperor and his various decrees, including the illegality of marriage for young, military-bound men as well as the encouragement and enactment of torture for imprisoned Christians. Valentine, as the story goes, secretly married young couples on principle and too may have helped Christian prisoners escape their fate at the hands of Roman guards.
These actions, as humanistic as they may be called, resulted in an empowering, encouraging, and indeed and most notably romantic Valentine being sentenced to death. Related legend on the man who would become a celebrated saint claims that while held prisoner, [Saint] Valentine deeply bonded with a girl who would visit him while in prison. Before Valentine’s execution, he wrote the endeared girl a letter which he signed in formative closing, “From your Valentine.” Imagine that.
It was near the beginning of the 6th century, and possibly as result of then-pope Pope Gelasius’ admonishment of the pagan celebration Lupercalia, when February 14th was first declared as Valentine’s Day. Through the proceeding centuries, Valentine’s Day evolved from simple verbal greetings to writings and gifts of affection to what it has become today: a mass-celebrated occasion of reds and pinks and hearts and flowers and gifts and, impressively, a social custom responsible for the purchase and exchange of an estimated 145 million Valentine’s Day cards.
Here’s to what’s coming; a truly remarkable occasion manifested by and for the monumental human ideal and emotion, love. And all of love’s constituents. Have and hold a happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.