As Valentine’s Day approaches, you will find me at some point slipping quietly into my favourite florist and reemerging with a large bundle of red roses. I’ve been doing this every year, without fail, for 30 years now, bringing flowers to the same girl. The first year, she received a similar bunch of roses from me and my competitor at the time. For some unknown reason, his roses ended up adorning the local chapel, while mine remained in her bedroom: a life-changing event for her and me.
Valentines Day was begun to honour one or more individuals of the early Christian church, many of whom were martyred.
One apparently was a priest who defied Roman law and was secretly performing marriages: at the time, only single men could be conscripted into the army and Rome, needing recruits, had put a moratorium on marriages. This Valentine was executed on February 14, 269 CE.
Another priest called Valentine was arrested for helping Christians – this was at a time when, well, Christians were the guests of honour in the Coliseum (remember “Gladiator” with Russell Crowe? That sort of guest). This Valentine was also executed. But he had a girlfriend, to whom he sent love letters from jail – the first valentines.
Then there was Valentinus of Egypt. Born around 100 CE, Valentinus became an outspoken and slightly offbeat teacher, who probably studied under a student of Paul and then went his own way, promoting ideas that were interesting but not quite orthodox. He did move to Rome and became a well known and respected teacher. Possibly, being offbeat prevented him from being executed: he was too weird to become a bishop, and too much like other Roman philosophers to be martyred. Lucky guy.
The word “valentinus” means “heathy, or strong”. The Romans used to say goodbye to one another with “Vale!” – “Be well!”
So you can see that Valentine’s Day as we celebrate it now probably derives from the first guy, the one who married lovers in secret. And so we proclaim our love to our romantic partners on this day.
This really bugs my daughter, who is single. And so she, and her single friends, will be getting together, probably for sushi and Hugh Grant movies, and celebrating “Singles Awareness Day”. Which I think is creative, a way of celebrating the day as a day of health and strength, and being slightly offbeat, while still surviving and even thriving.
As for me, I’ve ordered my roses, probably more than I should. But that relates to a story I once heard about a man in the Philippines who paid seven cows for his wife – a ridiculously high price at the time. No one had ever put out that much for a relationship before. At first his neighbours thought the guy a bit foolish, certainly strange. But after awhile they began to wonder if maybe he knew something that they didn’t, maybe his wife was worth seven cows. They began to treat the woman with deference and respect – perhaps she was descended from royalty. As time went on the woman began to look more and more like a queen, and the foolish man less and less like a fool. People tend to live up to the value you place in them.
Whether you are single, coupled or in between, set aside this Valentine’s Day to honour your strengths, your health, the gifts of your loved ones and families, and the benefits of being slightly offbeat. Vale!