Valentine’s Day has sordid history

It didn’t start out as a day filled with flowers, candle-lit dinners and online proclamations

Surely, a day filled with flowers, candle-lit dinners and online proclamations for one’s lover originated out of something equally as lovey-dovey, right? Turns out, this is totally wrong.

There are a few Catholic legends floating around, all of which end in death.

One of these stories took place around the year 270 A.D. when Emperor Claudius II beheaded a priest named Valentine after he was caught performing secret marriage ceremonies for lovers.

Wait, what?

Yes, you read that right.

Valentine, a priest in Rome, went against Claudius’ decree that forbid men from getting engaged or married. The result for Valentine? Ixnayed.

You see, Claudius was having trouble getting young men to join his army. He thought this might be due to men being too attached to their wives and families. His solution was to outlaw engagements and marriages throughout Rome.

Valentine disagreed, continuing to perform marriage ceremonies. Unfortunately, he was caught, and Claudius had him executed, but not before he left a farewell note to the jailer’s daughter, which he signed, “From Your Valentine.” Or so the story goes.

The execution (or possibly Valentine’s burial) is said to have taken place on Feb. 14.

There are a few other stories floating around. Early martyrologies (a catalogue of martyrs and saints according to different early Churches) mention two additional Valentine characters under the date of Feb. 14, who were also executed.

Whichever Valentine it was, they were declared a saint by the Catholic Church.

So what does any of this have to do with love?

It’s not exactly clear, but there was a Pagan holiday celebrated on Feb. 15 called Lupercalia that involved animal sacrifice as a way to promote fertility. The holiday traces back to the early 6th century B.C. in Rome. After the ritualistic sacrifices were performed, a feast was held, men and women were paired up through the drawing of names from a jar and women were whipped.

I’ll spare you any further gruesome details – this is, after all, supposed to be a pleasant holiday (at least for some of us).

Let’s fast forward now.

In the late 5th century A.D., Pope Gelasius I supposedly put a stop to the Pagan celebration, declaring the martyrdom of St. Valentine to be celebrated on Feb. 14th instead. It’s possible that with Valentine being someone who upheld love’s commitment – therefore dying for it – that the holiday, over time, was transformed into a day of love.

Like many ancient holidays, these details are loose, and so really, it’s up to us how we wish to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

For some of us, the day is one of celebration and love. For others of us, the day stings, reminding us of our singledom. Then again, can loving one’s self be enough?

Why not?

As society evolves, so do our customs. According to Statistics Canada, in the last 40 years, common-law partnerships have grown substantially faster than that of marriages. The rates of couples “living apart together,” where couples are partnered – married or not – but choose not to live together, are also increasing.

It’s clear our relational values as a society are changing.

Married or not, partnered or not, single or not, make the most of your Valentine’s Day. This doesn’t mean you have to go all out and buy your significant other (or yourself) a dozen overly-priced roses. Maybe it simply means acknowledging one’s value and importance, giving yourself a pat on the back and then binging your favourite T.V. show or catching up on some much-needed sleep.

Either way, Happy Valentine’s Day.

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