The Origins of Valentine’s Day Craziness

Okay, so my title sounds a bit more cynical than I actually am about Valentine’s Day. The word “craziness” is the only word I could think of to describe what this week was like as I was growing up in the ’90s. In elementary school, we would take a piece of construction paper, fold it in half, staple the sides to make a folder, and tape it to our desks. Our parents would be instructed to go out and buy little Valentine’s cards, enough for each kind in the class to be distributed into our makeshift mailboxes at the Valentine’s party. Sometimes the cards would have built-in slots allowing for a sucker stick to be threaded into the gift. On the day of the party, all the little boys and girls would study each card hoping to find that they had a secret admirer among them in class.


In junior high and high school is when the Valentine’s craziness reached a fever pitch. It was a sweet time for those who had boyfriends and girlfriends and a miserable time for those who had not matched up with a suiter. During those years, Valentine’s Day was a bonanza for the local flower and gift shops, because the teenagers were in a contest to see who would get the biggest, gaudiest balloon bouquet, stuffed animal, or gift basket. One by one, each lucky boy or girl would be called to the office during the last period of the day to receive their gift. Some “single” kid’s moms would feel sorry for them and have a gift delivered to school which only added to their embarrassment when they had to tell their friends and peers that their oversized gift was from mom. By the late ’90s most school administrations had wisely outlawed this craziness.


I would be remiss to say that Valentine’s craziness does not continue to plague adults as well. It is still a bonanza for gift shops and restaurants, but it is at least a little more fun when you are happily engaged or married. It’s an excuse to show extra love and appreciation for your mate. Some years I like to take my teenage daughter on a date to treat her on Valentine’s Day.


So where did this craziness begin? There was a 3rd- century Roman priest named Valentine. Valentine was a common name during the period, so it is unclear which Valentine is the one the holiday is based on. The legend is that the St. Valentine, whom the Catholic feast is named after, was martyred in Rome under Claudius II. Claudius had outlawed marriage because he found that single men made for better warriors. Valentine, a Catholic priest, defied this law and performed marriage ceremonies for young lovers. He also provided aid to the persecuted church in Rome.


So how did the practice of giving Valentine’s cards originate? It is reported that St. Valentine restored the sight of the young daughter of one of his Roman jailers. Just before his execution, by beheading, he sent her a note that was signed “your Valentine.”


Another, probably true, legend is that after the rise of Christianity in the Roman empire, the Feast of Valentine was instituted to overpower the annual Pagan holiday known as Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a February 14th holiday that included the sacrifice of a goat and a dog by a Roman priest. The skin of the goat was cut into strips and dipped in the sacrificial blood. Mostly naked men would walk the streets gently slapping the young women on the thigh with the bloody skins to supposedly increase fertility and ease the pain of childbirth. They would also slap the skins on their fields to supposedly increase their harvest. At the end of the evening, the women would write their names on tablets, place them in a big cauldron to be drawn by the men of the town. The resulting couples would be matched up until next year’s ceremony. Talk about craziness!


Now that you know the origins of the craziness, I encourage you to not be cynical about Valentine’s Day. Romantic love, when expressed within the boudaries that God laid out, unites lovers and is a gift from God. This love should be enthusiastically celebrated. If the Lord has blessed you with a mate whom you love and enjoy spending time with, be sure to let you know how thankful you are for them and do so in a special way.