So, today is Valentine’s Day, when we’re supposed to show those we love just how much we love them with ostentatious displays of cards, flowers, jewelry and fancy dinners. Which is a funny way to celebrate a day that commemorates someone who was beaten with clubs, stoned and beheaded because he wouldn’t renounce Christ.
Originally, Valentine’s Day was a Christian feast day to celebrate the life of a martyr named Valentine. Exactly who that was is in question, because there was more than one person of that name who was martyred. But, a few threads seem to run through most of the stories: he was Christian persecuted by Rome, he wouldn’t give up his faith and convert to Roman paganism and he was executed because of that. So, how did we get from a feast day celebrating a martyr who died a grisly death to hearts and flowers?
There are several historical explanations, but I think the reason we do what we do today is the rampant commercialism that invades every aspect of society. When I was growing up, Valentine’s Day was like Halloween: a kid’s holiday. Children gave candy hearts and cards with sappy message to their friends, had a party at school and that was pretty much it. Adults might do a little something, like flowers or a card, but it was definitely low-key. Today, if you don’t go all out to show your significant other just how much you love them, you’re a shitty partner. But, who really benefits from all this? Businesses, that’s who.
Valentine’s Day has been co-opted by retailers because it falls in the shopping wasteland of February. It’s perfect because it’s too early to shop for spring clothes and school supplies, but people are starting to recover from the materialistic Bacchanalia of Christmas. Which means we’ve got some money to spend and they want it. It’s a little depressing when you think about it.
Lest you think I’m a Scroogey asshole who hates love and everything to with it, let me say nothing could be further from the truth. I am not against a special day dedicated to love, but I think the way we’re celebrating the one we have is all wrong. In other words, I believe Valentine’s Day needs a makeover.
One of the stories about St. Valentine says he was in prison for ministering to Christians who were undergoing persecution by the Romans. Valentine refused to stop and he refused to renounce his faith, even on pain of death. Which means he lived out the command “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being…You must love your neighbor as you love yourself”. That’s the kind of love we should be celebrating today, not the materialistic crap foisted on us by retailers. It’s the kind of love can’t be symbolized by bits of paper, flowers that will wither and die in a few days or dinner at whatever restaurant is now hip. It’s the kind of love that’s shown through sacrifice and service to others. It’s the kind of love Christ called his followers to show everyone, every day. If one day a year is all we can manage, that’s a little sad. But, it’ll have to do.