Did you know approximately 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged on this day, making it the second largest greeting card holiday after Christmas? Also, the average person spends about $142 for Valentine’s but does anyone know why we celebrate this “day of love?”
The celebration of Valentine’s actually stems from Christian and ancient Roman history from a person by the name of Saint Valentine. But who was this saint and how did he get associated with this popular Hallmark holiday? And is there a way we can focus our family more on Christ and less on candy and cards?
The Catholic church recognizes three different saints names Valentinus, whom all were martyred. One legend contends a priest named Valentine served in Rome during the third century. During this time, Emperor Cladius II outlawed marriage among soldiers, because he thought they made better fighters than those with wives and children. Valentine, believing this was an unjust decree, would perform marriages in secret for couples in love. When Cladius learned of his actions, he ordered Valentine be put to death.
Other stories allude to a Valentine helping Christians escape from torture in Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. Another legend suggests an imprisoned Valentine sent the first love letter or “valentine” card to a jailor’s daughter, a girl he fell in love with while being held captive. Before his death, he wrote a letter to her signed “From Your Valentine,” an expression still used today in the holiday cards.
Just as Christians used Halloween to repurpose a known pagan holiday for a refocus on Christ, so it seems they did the same for Valentine’s. On February 15 in the Roman era, they celebrated Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. But at the end of the 5th century, the pagan holiday Lupercalia was outlawed, deemed “un-Christian” and Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day.
What can we take away from learning more of the history of the day of love? Are there any themes we see throughout the different legends? Two themes that stand out are sacrifice and love. The first Valentine sacrificed his life in the name of love by performing marriages in secret. The second martyr loved others and risked his life to save them from torture. Lastly, Valentine fell in love with someone who he expressed his feelings through his letters before he was killed.
Although it sounds cliché and the typical Christian answer, the ultimate example of sacrifice and love is Jesus Christ. He loved us so much that he sacrificed his life so our sins can be forgiven and we can have eternal life. 1 John 4:10 states “This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” So, when you are helping your kids fill out their Valentine cards or buying those little candy hearts, ask your kids why we celebrate Valentines and give them a little history on it. Ask them if they notice any recurring themes through the different stories and encourage them to think who showed the ultimate sacrifice and love. Your children might see a little bit more meaning to the holiday then just a Hallmark card.
Read one of our past blog posts: 3 Ways a Christian School Fosters Spiritual Growth