Chocolates, flower, cards and candies fill the fourteenth of February every year. It’s a tradition that dates back to 270 A.D. and the life of Valentine. History from this long ago is hard to come by, and is veiled in legend and lore as well as enlightened with clear facts. Given it’s original date, it’s easy to understand that it is a combination of Roman and Christian traditions.
Lupercalia in the Roman Empire was set for February fifteenth each year and was a fertility celebration. In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius declared the fourteenth of February, the day before Lupercalia, as the day Valentine, a third century Christian martyr was killed. The Pope encouraged all Christians to celebrate the saint’s day each year. Emperor Claudius II rose to his throne at a risky time in the Roman Empire. The golden age of Rome was in decline, taxes were high, rulers were no longer strong and admired, and tension was perceptible on all fronts for Rome.
Claudius thought that Roman soldiers who were married would be too weak, with family ties and tender feelings for a wife, and so he forbade marriage in the ranks of Roman soldiers. Valentine was bishop in Rome at that time and felt the rule was unfairly harsh. He performed many secret marriages, responding in compassion to desperate lovers who dared not defy the mighty emperor, but were in love enough to feel the injustice of the Emperor’s decree. Valentine’s plan was to avoid open defiance of the Emperor while secretly fulfilling the wishes of those in love. However, human beings are not good at keeping secrets, and eventually Claudius discovered this “friend of lovers,” and Valentine was arrested.
While in prison, his prison guard, Asterius, it is told, brought his blind daughter to Valentine, asking the saintly man if he could heal her of her blindness. By the power of his faith and his compassion, the daughter’s sight was returned. This story and the demeanor of Valentine, so gentle and firm in his faith and his convictions, impressed Claudius II. However, the Emperor could not get the saintly man to agree with him and when Valentine tried to convert Claudius to Christianity, the Emperor lost his temper and sentenced Valentine to death.
The legend goes that Asterius’s daughter was devastated when she heard that Valentine was to be killed and she sent a written message to him, declaring her love. Valentine wrote back to her, with a message of agape, or chaste love, signing the message, “From your Valentine.” Valentine was executed on February 14, 270 A.D.
It’s easy to see, then, why “Be my Valentine,” has such compelling force! It is Valentine who enabled a young woman to see after being blind. So it is with love, which opens our eyes to see things in someone that others may not see; love helps us to see everything with new eyes, new understanding. “From your Valentine,” might very well read, “From the one who allowed you to see!”
So it became the tradition to exchange love notes on February 14 each year. By the time of Geoffrey Chaucer, in the thirteen hundreds, it was generally accepted as a truth that birds mated on this day each year; hence his poem called, “The Parliament of Fowls,” in which we are told of a royal engagement on this day, “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.”
By the eighteenth century, Valentine messages and gifts had become elaborate things, lacy, complex, often expensive, and always revered by recipients as highly significant. Every restaurant knows that the night of St. Valentine’s Day will be a full house, and many pop the question of marriage on this day.
One Waldorf teacher told me the story of Valentine’s Day being extremely important to her first graders, who exhausted themselves making Valentine’s Day cards at home for all their little friends in school. Giving out the cards was a time of extreme anticipation. One little boy, Sebastian, who had many big brothers, came in to class and shouted, “Oh no! I left all my Valentine’s I made on the kitchen table. So screw me!” When the teacher reacted in shock to this the little boy said, “What does it mean? It’s what my brother, Matt, always says when he’s mad at himself.” So it was a great relief to everyone when his mother delivered the cards to be distributed.
But one first grader in that class, Kieran, who had made many, finely wrought cards for his friends received no Valentines from anyone. The next day he did not come to school and his mother came to tell the teacher that the poor lad had been devastated by the complete absence of any cards from anyone. He could not face coming to school. So the teacher stopped class and everyone made cards for the boy and sent them home with his little sister, explaining that all his classmates said that they had meant to make cards for him but had tired themselves out before they made all the cards they had wanted to. This cheered the boy considerably and he came back to school the following day.
These stories demonstrate how important expressing our love can be!
It’s a fine thing to have a day devoted to love of all kinds, friendly, passionate, chaste, kindly. It would be a boon to the whole world if we could send St. Valentine’s Day cads to our political enemies and, with that, change to course of history to a kindlier, more open world! If we could lay down arms for one day only, in order to exchange Valentines, different ideas might just have a chance to sneak in!
Meanwhile, expressing your most tender feelings to those in your life who deserve it most is a wonderful start! Enjoy St. Valentine’s Day and remember poor Valentine who gave up his life for love.