It’s that time of year many of us dread, when we’re meant to declare our affection for that special someone with giant teddy-bears, chocolates, roses and cards. This is supposed to be the ‘day of love’, St. Valentine’s Day. But what is the true significance of Valentine’s Day, and what does it mean to us now, compared to 270 AD, when its origins supposedly lie?
A higgledy-piggledy history
The history behind St. Valentine’s Day is steeped in legends and tales. Some say that Valentine’s Day has its roots in the ancient Roman Festival of Lupercalia, a celebration connected to fertility. However others say this is purely mythical and that St. Valentine’s Day began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. Pope Gelasius I changed this pagan festival to a Christian feast day in memory of a third century martyred priest in Rome, and St. Valentine’s Day was born. Yet the problem is that we still don’t know which Saint Valentine the Pope intended to honour when he imposed this festival as there were at least three Saint Valentines that it could have been. Nevertheless, the most common belief is that the St.Valentine was a priest in Rome, martyred on February 14th. This priest betrayed Emperor Claudius in 270 AD by conducting illegitimate wedding ceremonies in the name of love despite Emperor Claudius banning weddings for younger citizens as he claimed that married men were worse soldiers. The anonymous Valentine’s day cards that we send today are said to have originated from this St. Valentine, who supposedly fell in love with his jailer’s daughter and sent her letters signed ‘From your Valentine’.
A lot of this is not definite, but what we do know is that February 14th was only first associated with romantic love in 14th-century England during Chaucer’s time, the sort of medieval and courtly romance with noble knights that many girls dream about today. Chaucer used the image of birds as a symbol of love as it was thought in Medieval France and England that birds mated on February 14th. During the 18th Century, the holiday evolved with hand-made cards (with images of birds, cupid and hearts), gifts and letters being exchanged. By the 1840s, Valentine’s Day greeting cards were produced on a large scale in America.
Too much expectation
Valentine’s Day differs a lot nowadays; rather than courtly romance, it is a burdensome holiday that no longer holds much meaning due to commercialisation. Somehow a shop-bought card does not have the same effect as a hand-written poem or letter. Although I am nearly twenty, I still have a tiny bit of hope that some secret admirer will give me an anonymous letter or rose declaring their undying love for me, although the only card that I ever get is from my Mum. If you’re in a relationship and have a loving boyfriend or girlfriend, Valentine’s Day is a day where you are spoiled with chocolates, flowers and even a meal out and a piece of jewellery if you’re lucky. However, for the rest of us, it is a crushing reminder that we are still single and alone due to not only the ubiquitous pink and red hearts in every shop you pass but also from your friends who ask you what your plans are for Valentine’s Day (…to which the answer is always nothing).
What it’s really all about
Valentine’s Day is a day of love, rather than lusting over something we don’t have. Why should it be a miserable day which blatantly categorises people who are single and those who are in a relationship? Call me unromantic, but tacky cards, balloons and teddy-bears are not a sentimental or thoughtful way of expressing your love – for many shops and supermarkets, it is just the second most lucrative holiday after Christmas. It has become a show of wealth of who can afford the swankiest restaurant, most expensive bracelet or biggest box of chocolates. We don’t need one day to tell someone that we love them through buying heaps of presents and we shouldn’t be disappointed that the only card we receive is from our Mum! This over-commercialised hype of Valentine’s Day has made us lose touch with its real meaning which is a celebration of all the people we love in our lives, not just boyfriends and girlfriends, but friends and family too. So remember to show your loved ones you love them tomorrow, and whatever you do, don’t make it a day to be miserable!