Every year at the dead center of February we celebrate a very interesting holiday. This holiday was historically in honor of several martyrs by the name of Valentine who lived sometime around 200 A.D. Some time later February 14th (the date one of the Valentines was buried) was recognized by the Catholic church as Saint Valentine’s Day. In 1969 the Roman Catholic church pulled St. Valentine’s Day off the official church calender, explaining that in all honesty, the church knew nothing of the life of the man known as Valentine except his burial date.
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until the 14th century that the feast of Saint Valentine was even remotely connected with love and courtship. The origins of how St. Valentine’s Day became associated with love are vague and highly debatable. Some say it was rooted in Greek celebrations of Zeus and Hera’s marriage celebrated around the same time of year. Others link it to Lupercalia, a Roman fertility celebration. Nobody really knows for sure. What all can agree on is that Valentine’s Day has snowballed into what some would refer to as, “a pretty big deal.”
When I was in elementary school Valentine’s Day meant going to the grocery store with my mom and picking out a box of Looney Tunes Valentine cards. It meant spending a school night copying my classmates’ names onto each card, signing my own name, and then taping the classic heart-shaped suckers on the back (the kind that left a white heart on your tongue if you carefully kept it there long enough). It meant digging through my own Valentine’s bag or box for the best candy, glancing at the name for a brief moment of inward thanks, and then thoughtlessly discarding the card.
In junior high and high school, Valentine’s Day was filled with happy girls smugly toting around small flower arrangements and helium balloons that loudly declared, “I love you!” On those days, the main office appeared to have been taken over by a whole fleet of balloons and a forest of flowers. Those who were expecting something and got nothing pretended not to care. Those who received an unexpected token of affection from an unnamed someone spent the rest of the day nervously watching for smiles or winks that might unveil the masked admirer.
In college, Valentine’s Day has a different meaning. Those who are dating someone look on it favorably. Men flock to flower shops to get something for their girlfriends or wives. Men and women alike stress over what they can get for that special someone to show that they love and care about them. Those who aren’t dating someone refer to it as “Singles Awareness Day.” Some people ignore the holiday, while some have Anti-Valentine’s Day celebrations or girls-only tea parties.
I’ve never cared much about Valentine’s Day. The balloons, conversation heart candies, and stuffed animals never have seemed too romantic to me. But on Valentine’s Day this year I heard my doorbell as I was making myself breakfast. I glanced out my window to see who it was and was pleasantly surprised to see my favorite guy sprinting from my doorstep to his car. I let him drive away and then opened my door. He’d left some roses on my doorstep. I smiled and picked them up. The sound of a car idling in the driveway drew my attention to my neighbors who were watching from their van; they were smiling too.
I don’t know how Saint Valentine would have felt had he seen what his namesake holiday would evolve into. Maybe he would like it, or maybe he wouldn’t. But I have a feeling that if Saint Valentine had been there with me, he would have smiled as well.