Why do we celebrate Valentine's day?
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote – “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” And that’s where it all started from. A simple letter to King Richard II and his soon to be wife Anne of Bohemia on their anniversary, eight months before their marriage.
The problem is, people thought he was talking about February 14th. Which seems silly in retrospect, because most birds don’t do a lot of anything in Winter. It has been suggested that he was actually talking about May the 3rd. The date marking celebrations for Valentine of Genoa, and the day after the King and new Queen were married. Even if he were talking about February 14th, it was so long ago that they wouldn’t have been using the Gregorian calendar, which actually means he was talking about February the 23rd. And if you do the math, eight months before May is September anyway. How confusing.
So here we are, all sending mass produced bits of cards and bunches of flowers to one another in the name of a Saint who may or may not have anything to do with love.
Corporate Scam or Romance?
Every year around about the start of February, pessimists, broken-hearted sceptics and a handful of particularly unromantic, pub-dwelling men crawl out of their holes to announce that Valentines is a corporate vampire, created by Hallmark, sponsored by chocolate companies, sent to leach us of our money. And, we suppose if you choose to look it that way, it’s not far off.
We’d be silly to suggest that card companies weren’t using Valentines Day as a marketing tool. Of course they are. They have to pay the bills after all. But we believe in people and more specifically, love, enough to know that there is more to Valentine’s Day than cheap chocolate and other eleventh hour gestures.
Then there are the overly pro-romantics that pipe up. The we-should-show-love-to-each-other-all-year-every-day-romatics. The kind of people that burn the candle at each end and have fiery, passionate romps that last two weeks and end in hellfire.
You’re fooling yourself if you think every day is going to be beautiful and amazing. If you think every day of married (or unmarried life) is going to be full of wonderful gestures of love and laughter and passionate sex, you’re barmy. Stop putting stuff on a pedestal – it won’t work that way, and you won’t want it to work that way – because without the tears and the bickering and getting annoyed about petty little things that you do to each other on a day to day basis, you won’t appreciate the wonderful things. If every day is perfect, then every day will be dull too.
And this is why we celebrate Valentine’s today. Regardless of whether Chaucer sent that letter, and regardless of the bravery of Valentinus himself – it is us that make Valentine’s Day what it is – whether you choose to pick up a mass-produced greetings card, propose to your lover under the Northern Lights, get married on a Greek island or renew your vows in the place where you met – today is your chance to light up romance and own it. Forget what it means to anyone else and use today to tell someone you love them in your own way.
Chaucer might have popularised the idea of Valentine’s with his message of love to the King and Queen, but it was Saint Valentinus of Rome that died for the cause of love – and it is his day we celebrate.
Yes, handwritten cards can be romantic, if the words are yours and they are true, but with our expectations so high and our inspiration so low, we are cursing ourselves before we’ve even set out.
It’s nice to do something unique to show someone you love them, and it is beautiful to sacrifice something in the name of love, but what is so special about Valentine’s Day, is that you can do either and that should be alright. Just letting someone know how you feel sometimes, is enough to make their day.
You see, romance isn’t about dying or pain or any of that, but about sacrifice and about hope. And sacrifice doesn’t have to be your life, or your lifestyle, but of your time – dedicating your time to someone else, giving them love and hope and laughter – that is romance.
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.