Tuesday, 14 February 2012

It's Valentine's Day

TODAY, February 14, Feast of St. Valentine, or now simply called Valentine Day has become a global celebration of love and romance. From the United States to Australia and New Zealand, and from Canada to France and Great Britain; and now with the increasing phenomenon of globalisation, non-Western nations like Turkey, South Korea, Singapore, South Africa, and Nigeria are caught up in the celebration of Valentine Day, which is marked by the exchange of millions of material gifts, flowers, post cards, text messages and electronic mails.
Among young people who have become the most engaged in this celebration, social networks are bombarded with texts, sounds and images of love and romance. And as usual with modern day celebrations, there is widespread commercialisation of the event, as shops, hotels, banks, telephone companies and the entertainment industry are agog with flashy decorations, and they advertise ever newer products and services to mark the day. A recent research revealed that these days no less than 150 million Valentine Day cards are exchanged annually, making Valentine Day the second most popular card-sending feast after Christmas. And with increasing use of social network platforms, hundreds of millions of people across the globe are likely to connect with one another today in celebration of love. But who is this mysterious person whose name Valentine has become synonymous with love and romance? What is the origin of the Valentine’s Day celebration?
What we know today regarding the origin of Valentine’s Day and the story of Valentine, its patron saint, is part history and part legend. Much of it is shrouded in mystery. However, February 14 has in the Western tradition long been observed as a day to celebrate love and affection. There are legends that link the Valentine Day celebration to an ancient pagan fertility cult which was celebrated in the middle of the month of February, and was Christianised when Rome became a Christian empire. A more popular tradition, however, traces the celebration to a 3rd Century AD Catholic priest named Valentine who was martyred by Emperor Claudius around the year 270 AD on account of his commitment to (chaste) marital love. Emperor Claudius had outlawed marriage for young men, so they could serve in the army without any family encumbrances and distractions. For him, single men made better soldiers, so he forbade marriage for young soldiers upon the pain of death.
The priest Valentine, found such law unjust and oppressive. So he continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When however his actions were discovered, he was arrested, thrown into jail and eventually put to death. It is alleged that while in prison, the daughter of either the emperor or the chief gaoler often visited him and they regularly exchanged affectionate notes. On the day of his execution, Valentine sent the young lady a note signed “from your Valentine.”  The priest died as a champion of chaste love and marital commitment, but he had won the hearts of young lovers around the Roman Empire, and as time went by his fame spread through the then known world as the hero of love. One of the extant traditions says that in the 5th Century AD Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day, and Valentine quickly became a household name and a lovers’ delight all over Europe. The feast was marked annually with the exchange of gifts and cards with rich poems and reflections on love and romance.
Today however the celebration appears to have lost much of its original content, as many young people across the world see Valentine’s day as a day for open and unmitigated display of romance and sexual orgies, to such an extent that many religious people hardly want to be associated with it.
Yet the widespread preoccupation of many young people across the world with Valentine is evidence of the human fascination with the reality and phenomenon of love and affection, and the wonder of human sexual attraction which Valentine has come to represent. Perhaps the global celebration of Valentine Day is an expression of the profound desire deep in the hearts of men and women for true love, affection and acceptance, in a world regrettably overwhelmed by loneliness, rejection, hatred and violence. Yes, perhaps the attraction of Valentine’s Day is an expression of the strong human desire for authentic love in a world of rampant sexual exploitation and fragile marital commitments. Therefore, beyond the widespread commercialisation of the day, and beyond the widespread resort to irresponsible sexual encounters or open display of sexual orgies, Valentine’s Day could be an occasion for a global discourse and reflection on the imperative of wholesome (sacrificial) love for human fulfilment in a world that is torn apart by selfishness, hatred and violence.
As the young men and women of our generation get more and more involved in the celebration of Valentine’s Day even in our distressed environment, where young people have experienced many dashed hopes and broken dreams, and are now full of hatred, resentment and violence, perhaps the time has come for leaders of thought across our ethnic and religious divides in this country to begin to seize every such occasion to educate young people on the rich and profound dynamics of love, which go far beyond the rather superficial romance that is often celebrated in the popular culture. Rather than abandon the day to mindless commercialisation and a reckless display of sexual orgies, perhaps the time has come to make Valentine’s Day a day to teach, propagate and promote the ideals and principles of wholesome love and affection upon which alone our society and the entire humanity will survive. On this note The Guardian wishes all our readers a happy Valentine’s Day!


  1. I never knew this history. Thank you

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