The Valentine’s Dilemma: Obligation or Opportunity?

Fragrant flowers, sparkling gems, shiny cards with expressions of love, chocolate everywhere, hearts galore… It’s that time of year again, my favorite time (Not!). I don’t know when or where it started, but Valentine’s Day at some point became my least favorite holiday. Maybe it happened gradually as my years of singleness increased along with the hoopla, which became just one more in-my-face reminder of my lonely, partnerless state. More annoying were the giddy, romantic couples who appeared to surround me at every turn and made me feel inferior since the love in the air was not what I was breathing. I can’t pinpoint it exactly but I grew to dread February, and it had nothing to do with the weather.

Until one day when I found myself listening to my own words as I talked about the Hallmark holidays with my kids. The words poured out without thinking, “I know it feels like an obligation but why not look at it as an opportunity to express your appreciation and love for someone,” I said. Where did THAT come come from? Wow, that was pretty good! It was even after Mother’s Day so it couldn’t have been premediated or some passive agressive planting of seeds. It just spewed out of nowhere.

Since then I have decided to embrace, rather than complain, about Valentine’s Day and the other holidays set aside throughout the year for seemingly commercial purposes ($15 billion industry for Valentine’s Day alone, by the way).  I’ve decided to use this time to express my love and gratitude to family and friends. And, with my Christmas cards still heaped in a stack on the corner of my kitchen counter, it’s a perfect time to send an “early” Valentine.

May you also come to see Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to show someone your love. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt to pick up a dozen roses too!

Martyrs and Matchmakers – How Valentine’s Day Started

It actually started with a person, Valentine or Valentinus, but can also be linked to a pagan celebration, Lupercalia, which involved slapping straps of goat hide on women to increase their chances of fertility and then later being matched up by a random draw with potential suitors. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints with the name Valentine, one who was martyred on February 14. One legend tells the story of a third century Roman priest under the reign of Emperor Claudius II. He decided that single men made better soldiers on the battlefield than homesick married men who were missing their families. As a result, Claudius outlawed marriage for young men, but Valentine stepped up couragelously against him and continued to marry couples secretly. When discovered, Claudius ordered that Valentine be put to death. The legend continues with Valentine falling in love with the jailor’s daughter (some more conservative versions of the story say “healing the daughter”) and, on the day of his death, leaving a note behind for her signed, “From your Valentine.”

From that legend, the celebration spread and, in the Middle Ages, became romanticized. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by the Duke of Orleans to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London. In the 1840s, Valentine’s cards became more well-known and widespread through the “Mother of Valentine”, Esther Howland, who began designing and mass producing valentines in America. According to the Greeting Card Association, today an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas (2.6 billion cards).