So, how’s your Valentine’s Day going so far? Have you been inundated with luuurve? Flowers; perfume; chocolate; Mitre 10 gift vouchers…? Are you and your sweetheart dining out tonight? Will there be candles and whispered sweet nothings?
In our nearly 42 years of romance, the Old Boy and I have never made a big deal of St Valentine’s Day. No; let me be brutally honest: The Old Boy never made a big deal of it. In the early days I would buy him a heart-shaped chocolate or something similar, and give him a card that said romantic stuff that I usually find myself gagging on if I have to say it out loud. Nothing ever came back but, being a wonderful wife, I chose not to let that bother me. As the years dragged on I eventually gave up. There seemed no point to it all. That year, he finally gave me something. TYPICAL! Of course, because I had nothing for him he decided he was right to ignore it in the first place and that was the end of that.
It’s not that he’s not romantic; every decade he comes up with something that surprises me. He says it’s because it’s just another “commercialised American rubbish holiday”. (My apologies to my American readers.) And he’s right, and he’s wrong. It’s definitely become commercialised and sentimentalised but it isn’t an American invention. The commemoration of St Valentine started centuries before the USA was a twinkle in colonial Britain’s eye.
St Valentine was a priest in Rome during the days of Claudius. The emperor wanted to strengthen and add to the Roman empire , for which he needed soldiers for his army. His thinking was that young, unmarried men would make better oldiers because they’d be free from worrying about their families back home. (Young men have always been the preferred form of cannon fodder.) Claudius went a step further than most and proclaimed a ban on young people marrying. Valentine thought this was unjust and, therefore, performed marriages in secret, until he was finally caught, imprisoned and, of course, tortured. A couple of years later, in 270 AD or thereabouts, he was beheaded. It is part of the legend that, on his execution day, he left a note for his jailer’s daughter and signed it: from your Valentine.
Almost straight after his death, Valentine was declared a saint for the way he was willing to die for his faith and principles. In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius declared February 14, St Valentine’s day. (He hoped it would replace the Lupercalia celebration, which was a very ancient version of “everyone chuck your keys in the bowl and see who you get”.) Eventually Valentine became known as the patron saint of lovers and, by the Middle Ages, it had really kicked into gear. Back then the done thing was to write your loved one a sonnet, or to serenade them with a hey nonny no. Now we’ve progressed, in true Aussie style, to messages in the local paper: Dear Shazza, me life’s really beaut now I’ve met ya. Love ya from me boots up, Bazza.
I think the sentimental version of Valentine’s Day can be nice, if not taken too seriously. However, the Valentine who was prepared to die for his principles…well, that’s someone I’m happy to celebrate. I reckon whenever someone takes a stand against injustice; whenever someone is willing to stick their heads above the parapet and shout, “That’s not right!”; whenever someone chooses to do the loving thing rather than the mean thing, then Valentine, from the Great Beyond, is cheering them on.
Happy Valentine’s Day, folks. I hope you have a good one.