There are no two ways about it: Valentine’s Day is a point of contention. Some people are over-the-top about it, others boycott it, and some just pickup a card and call it a day. What I have come to notice is that, while everyone has their own take on the day, not many people use it just for love.
Today, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the United States, Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia. People send cards, write poems, go out to dinner, and buy gifts to commemorate the, typically romantic, love they have for another person. Because today February 14th is filled with hearts and flowers, people often forget that Valentine’s Day has both a suspicious and unclear past.
The most popular version of the legend is derived from the ancient Romans, in which the 14th of February is celebrated in order to commemorate St. Valentine’s death. The legend of St. Valentine has three variations: one in which he defies Roman Emperor Claudius II’s decree outlawing marriage for young men, another in which he was killed for trying to free Christian men from prison, and a third in which he writes a letter from his prison cell to a girl he loved, signing it “From your Valentine.” Each variation has a romantic element, but the third tale is rumored to be where the modern day Valentine card comes from.
Another account of the Roman story claims that the Christian church purposely made it so that the St. Valentine’s feast day would fall during the pagan celebration of Lupercalia in an attempt to “Christianize” the holiday. It is said that during the feast of Lupercalia, Roman men would whip women (with strips of goat hide covered in blood) in an attempt to make them more fertile. After this, each woman’s name was entered into and pulled from a lottery so that they could be “matched” with a bachelor for a full year.
With this history in mind, it is fair to say that Valentine’s Day is a complicated holiday with a bad reputation—one characterized by questionable roots and materialistic tendencies—but that doesn’t mean we should shun love and the good that it represents.
Since Valentine’s Day has such questionable roots, it shouldn’t be taken seriously or definitively in either direction. Valentine’s day has no real historical relevance—not one that can be agreed upon, anyway—so people should be able to do with it what they please. With this in mind, there should be no societal pressure to participate in our modern Valentine’s Day; as long as we are authentically expressing our own love in our own specific way, there should be no problem or judgment.
Love isn’t about candy, love isn’t about flowers, and love isn’t even about romance. In Finland, instead of observing Valentine’s Day on February 14, people embrace Friendship Day, in which they celebrate the bonds of friendship with all those they care for. Perhaps we should be more like the Finnish and aim to vocalize and express each type of love we personify—that for our parents, our siblings, our friends, roommates, acquaintances, and significant others alike.
With this in mind, and in an attempt to embrace love in its purest forms, we should throw out all the background noise—the futile conversation hearts, the grand gestures, and the anti Valentine’s Day parties. We should reject the frivolous aspects of the day and just focus on appreciation and thankfulness for those people who make our lives great, and if things like flowers or chocolate happen to coincide with our personal expression of love, so be it.
So, whatever way you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day is acceptable in my book so long as it is genuine. Acts of all types of love should come from the heart, and they should be invited and expressed on normal and special days with equal opportunity. We should be incorporating our genuine sentiments into our daily routines. Similar to the way Christians aim to celebrate Christ each and every day (not just on Christmas), we should be celebrating all types of love today, Valentine’s Day, and every other day of the year.