It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow, so that got me thinking about how we celebrate it and why.
One story goes that a Roman Emperor wanted his soldiers to focus solely on war, so he forbade marriage. A priest called Valentine defied the ban and continued to marry couples in secret. The priest’s subversion was discovered and he was put to death.
The romantic celebration of St Valentine’s apparently began in the 14th century when Chaucer associated the saint with romance in his poetry. Around the same time Paris set up a court to protect women. The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals and violence against women. The earliest surviving valentine was written by a Frenchman to his wife:
Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée…
—Charles d’Orléans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2
Aaah, French, the language of love!
By the eighteenth century, books of poems were published so that young lovers unable to compose their own poetry could draw on these. Paper valentines began to be mass produced and with the beginnings of a postal service anonymous valentines could be sent.
So here we are in the 21st century, and what does Valentine’s day mean now? Huge numbers of red roses delivered to schools, offices and homes. Jewellery stores advertising, diamonds, rings, necklaces. Stationers selling vast numbers of romantic, funny, cynical and friendship cards. It’s competitive, desperate, disappointing, exciting, exploitative … It’s for children, teenagers, lovers, couples, young and old.
It can be a day to declare your romantic intentions, to arouse passions, to ignite love, or simply a special day to rekindle romance.
The days leading up to Valentine’s can be a time to reflect on love, relationships and the glue that holds couples together.
A few images to expand on these thoughts about Valentines:
What is love?
Love can be a smouldering fire, to be rekindled with fresh air … or extinguished through neglect:
Then there is the passion we all yearn for, the heart on fire:
Happy Valentine’s Day!