If February 14 — these days more popularly known as Valentine‚Äôs Day– passed anyone by with nary a peep or more likely a thud on the head with something red or pink in colour and in all likelihood in the shape of hearts, chocolates or flowers, one might say they were living under a pink [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

The legacy of St. Valentine

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If February 14 — these days more popularly known as Valentine‚Äôs Day– passed anyone by with nary a peep or more likely a thud on the head with something red or pink in colour and in all likelihood in the shape of hearts, chocolates or flowers, one might say they were living under a pink coloured rock…almost every store with any potential or ability to do so was decked out for supposedly the most romantic day of the year, which either made you feel loved up or bottomed out – depending on your mood or more likely your civil and relationship status. Now that the rose coloured dust has settled, it might be worth having a look at the day in question to find out what all the fluffy pink coloured fuss is all about.

Valentine’s Day is a festival of romance that celebrates love and relationships. Celebrated on February 14, it is most often associated with the colour red and romance. Valentine’s Day traditions are usually marked by giving gifts (usually to a significant other) most commonly in the form of chocolates and roses, and a romantic night out on the town. In some countries, there is a tradition of having schoolchildren exchange Valentines Cards that may contain candy. Decorations typically feature Cupid and his arrows, doves, and hearts. Cupid probably became a symbol of Valentine’s Day as he is the Roman god associated with the erotic, passionate type of love. His arrows are said to pierce one’s heart which immediately results in the target falling madly, instantaneously and irrevocably in love.

Valentine’s Day actually started as a religious celebration. The holiday commemorated the line of Christian saints under the name Valentinus. The most significant St. Valentine was beheaded by the Roman emperor Claudius. The emperor had banned marriage in order to help his soldiers focus, but St. Valentine continued to marry couples in secret, as marriage was an important ritual for Christians. When St. Valentine refused to embrace paganism, Claudius had him executed around 269 AD.

According to Wikipedia, it is said that whilst he was in prison, St. Valentine developed feelings for his jailer‚Äôs blind daughter. Legend says that his love for her was so great that he healed her sight. This is the origin of the phrase, ‚ÄúFrom your Valentine,‚ÄĚ as St. Valentine signed a letter to her this way before his execution.

The holiday was further developed when Pope Gelasius attempted to get rid of a pagan festival celebrated in February. Previously, young Roman men celebrated the spring festival of fertility by drawing a name of a female from the box, who would be their partner for the following year. The pope decided that this was not in accordance with Christian values, and changed the ritual to where the young Roman men would draw the name of a Saint, who they were supposed to aspire to be like for the rest of the year.The pope replaced the pagan god associated with the festival, Lupercus, with St. Valentine.

As the change in practice was not very popular with the young Romans, the men used St. Valentine’s romantic themes to write letters to young women, often invoking the name of St. Valentine to communicate affection.These letters became the norm for Valentine’s Day sweethearts as the practice of courting developed during the Middle Ages.

The practice of giving other gifts arrived in 18th century England. In contemporary times, these have almost completely been replaced by commercial greeting cards. Interestingly, according to legend, in order ‚Äúto remind these men of their vows and God‚Äôs love, Saint Valentine is said to have cut hearts from parchment‚ÄĚ, giving them to these soldiers and persecuted Christians, a possible origin of the widespread use of hearts on St. Valentine‚Äôs Day.

For anyone who has been curious as to why the Amethyst became the birthstone of the month of February, it is thought that it is because according to legend, Saint Valentine wore a pure deep purple amethyst ring, customarily worn on the hands of Christian bishops with an image of Cupid engraved in it. It became a recognisable symbol associated with love, which was of course legal under the Roman Empire. Roman soldiers would recognise the ring and ask him to perform marriages for them. Since February is most often associated with love and romance due to Valentine’s Day, it is thought that the stone associated with him, the amethyst, became the birthstone of February, which is thought to attract love.

All this begs the question, why would we need a special day to celebrate the ones we love? Surely it is logical and even natural to want to love, honour and celebrate your love everyday. Perhaps a rather infantile proposition in the modern world, however, the underlying principle still reads true. How much more special would it be if every day was like a Valentine’s Day with significant others celebrating each other without waiting for a special occasion. Ironically, this day is most often seen as being an especially important day for affection from men towards women. That men treat their lady loves to a fancy evening of gifts and romance, and of course the other way around in all fairness. Bearing in mind of course, that all this is predominately in the urban areas of most countries. Whether people with bigger issues in life and perhaps more pressing matters to attend to in rural towns and poorer areas even know of its existence is extremely questionable and it is perhaps fair to suggest that Valentine’s Day is an urban epidemic.

The question is, do women really enjoy, look forward to and crave Valentine‚Äôs Day celebrations? It is something I am told often, but most women I talk to can barely find the time to tolerate it, let alone set aside an entire day to celebrate it. Perhaps it appeals to a different vintage of females, perhaps those still in or just out of school, but by and large it seems to be something that has become hugely commercialised and as a result causes a certain degree of pressure on both parties involved to ‚Äėcelebrate‚Äô the occasion. On occasion people seem to enjoy celebrating it and if I were being generous I would say that it serves as a reminder to not take those we love for granted, knowing there is a special day for ‚ÄėValentines‚Äô.

As one of those ‚Äėlucky‚Äô Valentine Babies, I for one have always taken it with a pinch of salt. Getting a table at a restaurant has always been a challenge and thankfully, my husband has always been wise to wish me for my birthday first, before doing so for a day that now belongs to the masses. I find it amusing when people assume the birthday paraphernalia and wishes I am blessed to receive are from my extremely romantic other half: romantic he is, but ridiculous he is not. In some ways I am happy for the legacy St. Valentine has left us, for people who are aware of the occasion and feel they have something to celebrate, walk around with a spring in their step and a little more love in their hearts. This of course suits us fine, for in our family, Valentines Day is in fact a truly special day which we all celebrate with lots of love, hearts, cake and flowers: it‚Äôs a day I share with my beloved niece and at the stroke of midnight, we all get to celebrate the miracle of our daughter. So the way I see it, whilst we surely do not need a special day to celebrate your special significant other, if the world at large feels a little extra love and affection on a day that is so special and important to us for entirely different reasons, then who am I to complain?

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