A sense of meaning and purpose is a vital component for healthy and happy living. Celebrations and rituals help us be part of a larger world community, something we need for survival – belonging in a group. But it is easy to forget the original meaning and purpose for many things we celebrate – if we ever knew them – amidst the modern commercially driven observances.
Is Valentine’s Day just about chocolate, roses, and those little heart-shaped message mints? Is it only for people with dates and mates, or grade schoolers with punch-out cardboard greetings? Who was St. Valentine anyway, and why do we want to celebrate him – or wish to avoid doing so?
What IS the meaning and purpose of Valentine’s Day?
Legends abound about Saint Valentine, but most include a report of him giving a note to his friend, the jailer’s daughter, while he awaited execution that said, “from your Valentine.” He is reputed to have arranged marriages for secret lovers and was martyred as a Christian, put to death on February 14th. Throughout history, even before the life of Saint Valentine (who was not considered a “real” saint by the Catholic church), some form of Valentine’s Day has been celebrated, in many countries.
It’s not just about romance…
While true, it is simplistic to say that the day became associated with romantic love in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. Many aspects of relationships were seriously considered, not only romance. For example, a “High Court of Love” was established in Paris on Valentine’s Day in 1400. The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women.
Judges were selected by women on the basis of a poetry reading – might such a procedure benefit us today?
The English likely brought the celebration of Valentines Day to America in the 19th Century. The first “mass produced” valentine was made around 1847 by Esther Howland, daughter of a stationary store owner in Worcester, Massachusetts. In the twentieth century Valentines Day evolved into an occasion aimed at lovers, and for everyone to spend money on gifts and candy.
Lonely hearts are not alone
Due to the modern narrow focus on romantic love, lots of people don’t like Valentines Day – it’s a reminder that they don’t have a special Valentine – or perhaps friends they wish to buy cards for. The holiday can seem like a meaningless commercial excuse, and has been dubbed by the marketing industry “the Hallmark holiday” as second only to Christmas in card sales. (What would Esther Howland say?)
Far from empty or commercial, what is now Valentine’s Day is based in ancient multi-cultural celebration of everything from fertility to friendship. There is positive energy and value that can make us feel better, in celebrating with millions of people around the world – if we make it into something personally meaningful.
So if Hallmark doesn’t work for you … design your own version of the day – some one, somewhere, at some time, celebrates with you!
TEN WAYS TO BE YOUR OWN VALENTINE –
and share true meaning of the day
1) Give yourself a gift or treat, or day of relaxation, in recognition of something kind you did or to appreciate one of your special qualities
2) Make a card, baked item, or personalized gift for a friend or family member, noting what you appreciate about having them in your life – in more words than a Hallmark card…or simply, in YOUR words
3) Light a candle or create a household altar in honor of someone you love, a child, or pet, the earth or sea, or….? or simply honoring love itself
4) Be a “Saint Valentine” to someone else and give to a charity or help others
Or, adapt these meanings and celebrations from other times and places for yourself:
5) In Columbia “Love and Friendship Day” is celebrated by giving an anonymous gift to show appreciation to a friend…a Valentine version of “Secret Santa” is done with groups
6) In Finland it is about remembering one’s friends and is called “Friend’s Day” – appreciate yours, or be an extra good one to someone else
7) In Slovenia St. Valentine is a patron of spring, and is celebrated by planting flowers or the start of work in vineyards and fields
8) Celebrated in ancient Greece was the marriage of Zeus and Hera, she being the goddess of marriage who refused to be raped by Zues…an early feminist…celebrate how women have changed things in the world of relationships
9) Hera’s counterpart in Rome is Juno, patron goddess of marriage, women, and children. She is celebrated in mid-February with the festival of Juno Februa, which includes a purification or cleansing feature to enhance health, strength, and fertility.
10) Neo-pagans still invoke Juno Februa for “fertility and sex-magic”…google it and add some ritual to your life