Today is Valentine’s Day, that 24 hour period where lovers are celebrated, candy makers and jewelers make a fortune, and for those of us in a relationship, a day where we try to figure out what sort of gift is appropriate for our significant other.
Gifting on Valentine’s Day can be a serious challenge. For the person early in a relationship, the question is “gift or card, or both?” And, if the decision is to buy a gift, question two becomes what sort of gift? Men and women have tortured themselves over this small but sometimes crucial decision, because the nature of the gift often symbolically conveys more than what the giver has ever been able to express in words. There are so many unspoken rules relative to the appropriateness of the gift to be given, particularly for the newly in love. Giving too intimate a gift too early in the relationship can be as poorly received as giving one deemed too casual. What is a young, or old for that matter, lover to do?
For those of us who have survived in long term relationships, Valentine’s Day is sometimes more obligation than romantic interlude. We buy our significant other a funny card, or a mushy one, and feel we have done our duty. Flowers rarely make an appearance anymore. Infrequently we may dine out, but more often than not, we make the minimal effort necessary to recognize the day and our partner, motivated to avoid conflict rather than to celebrate affection. Sort of sad, really.
In reflecting on Valentine’s Day, I thought I might actually read about the day’s namesake, Saint Valentine to see whence came this holiday. Frankly, reading about Saint Valentine is more depressing than standing on my bathroom scales, and that is saying a lot. Saint Valentine, whose feast day truly is February 14, was a Roman priest who was martyred during the reign of Claudius II. Valentine’s crime was conducting marriage ceremonies for Christians. After Valentine was arrested and imprisoned Claudius took a liking to him, but eventually Valentine was condemned to death after trying to convert Claudius to Christianity. Valentine was hard to kill, too. When clubbing and stoning failed to produce the desired result, Claudius ordered Valentine beheaded. All of this happened around 270 A.D.
At first glance, it’s hard to make the connection between being beheaded in 270 A.D. for conducting marriage ceremonies and the holiday that today bears the martyr’s name, but when you set aside all the hoolah that surrounds Valentine gifting today and really look at why the day’s namesake lost his head, the answer is simple. Valentine literally lost his head for love – for recognizing and sanctifying the love of two people for each other.
From Saint Valentine’s perspective, Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate those we love and those who love us. A day to remind us of love’s sacrifice, as well as love’s gifts. I rather like thinking of Valentine’s Day from that perspective.