To Valentine or Not to Valentine
Hello, readers, and welcome back!
So, what’s new since we last convened here on the pages? Stuck? I will help you. Our drug store aisles have dispensed with Christmas and filled themselves with Valentine’s Day cards and candy. Because nothing says love more than large commercial expenditures.
Okay, pause for our collective groan. And now, let’s chat. One of the great upsides to being a writer, when we get lucky, is researching a topic and thinking, “wow, I didn’t know that.”
And today’s column emanates from such a circumstance.
For many of us, our love/hate relationship with Valentine’s Day dates back to grade school. Many schools do “Valentine boxes” (wherein students’ “will you be my Valentine” cards are ‘secretly’ placed inside and then distributed) which doesn’t really work too well for queer children who by grade school instinctively, painfully, know this isn’t going to go the way they would wish.
Add to that the taunt of “I got the most cards and you didn’t” which (statistically) almost all of us know echoes long after the day is gone, is bound to happen.
For youngsters, even the candy hearts with their sayings and the gobs of chocolate in their shiny foil won’t quite erase the ache of the desired card that didn’t come.
But rather than go to the all-or-nothing policy, what if we actually teach about Valentine’s Day? I realize that presents a potential challenge because this celebration of love and lovers is a bit of an historical kerfuffle.
What is known is there was a man, a priest, named Valentine (who was not gay), who put love above the law to perform outlaw marriages in his day.
It seems Roman Emperor Claudius II thought that he would get more and better soldiers if men were not allowed to marry, so he issued a decree outlawing marriage. Saint Valentine (or Valentinus in Latin) continued to perform weddings in secret until he was arrested and executed for defying the ban on such marriages. He also performed weddings for Christian couples at a time when the church was persecuted.
All of which seems linear enough—but wait! There’s a Roman Pagan twist (Lupercalia), a dozen or so known Saint Valentines (including one Saint Valentina), a Pope Valentine who no one really knows much about and who only served for 40 days in 827 AD, and finally, of the most likely candidates to be the one, there are two! Both beheaded by Claudius II which leaves us with no one knowing for certain which is the St. Valentine’s Day Valentine.
But everyone agrees, whoever the right one is, Valentine is now the patron saint of fledgling relationships, engaged couples, and longtime marriages.
Which I’d like to think means, if legend is at all correct, Valentine, were he alive today, would be happily cozying up to the Pope and saying, you know, there’s nothing about marriage equality that should scare you.
He would not, however, be telling you to go buy a candy heart or a dozen roses. The person we can thank for romancing that stone is none other than Chaucer.
Sometime in the 1370s or so, Chaucer wrote a poem called “Parliament of Fowls,” which contains the line, “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate.”
Seventy years later, around 1400, nobles inspired by Chaucer began writing poems known as “valentines” to their love interests. And thus, myth weds legend, fully linking Saint Valentine to romance, and centuries later, hearts and flowers still bloom.
So my answer to Saint Valentine’s Day is to remember it isn’t a competition for the biggest candy haul or floral bouquet, or some other romantic gesture. Saint Valentine’s Day it is about love. (And marriage equality.)
I suggest we go back to its roots, set aside a day in our lives to tell people we love them, to tell our pets we love them, to value love as a commodity unto itself, because then maybe the celebration of Valentine’s Day will become the most cherished of all.
Let’s teach our children not about romance, but about love—that the love of friends is as important as any love you will know.
Oh, and, about that Cupid baby…he was Greek. And he was a hunk of a Greek God named Eros, the son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love herself. Eros’s sexual power was so threatening to the Romans that they diminished it by infantilizing him, making him a cute child. Renaissance painters took up that cherubic imagery which is how Hallmark came to find it. It was “on trend.” ▼
Stefani Deoul is a television producer and author of the award-winning YA mystery series Sid Rubin Silicon Alley Adventures, with On a LARP, Zero Sum Game, and Say Her Name.