Valentine’s Day: From chocolates to saints, feel the love on this global holiday

Pink-and-red candies spell out "Love" on blue background

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 14: Chocolates, hearts and expressions of love are flowing around the world today—all in a tradition that dates back to a legendary, early Christian saint—even though, technically, there were multiple Valentines in early Christianity.

The truth is: This holiday’s history is a bit misty … In ancient Rome, the fertility festival Lupercalia was observed February 13-15, although historians cannot document specific historical links between Lupercalia and the modern Valentine’s Day. For that matter, history doesn’t document any romantic association with Valentine’s Day until the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer.

The embers of courtly love began glowing in the High Middle Ages, and by the end of the 18th century, Valentine cards were being produced and exchanged. Through the decades, Valentines evolved from lace-and-ribbon trinkets to paper stationery to a holiday involving more expensive gifts, chocolates and, more recently, jewelry. (Wikipedia has details.) The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 190 million valentines are sent in the United States each year (not including the inexpensive Valentine cards exchanged among schoolchildren).

Many Christian churches discuss God’s love and the sacrament of marriage in liturgy around Valentine’s Day. (Read Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, God is Love, and more at American Catholic.)

Painting of man standing before kneeled woman, angels above, crowd gathered

One of the St. Valentines baptizes St. Lucilla. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

ST. VALENTINE(S):
Nearly a dozen of them!?!

Down through the centuries, Christians have honored nearly a dozen St. Valentines, so any research into the history of the “real” St. Valentine quickly veers toward confusion. Some authors have simplified the matter by giving their own chosen version, but the truth is …

“Nothing is reliably known of St. Valentine except his name and the fact that he died on February 14,” says Wikipedia in a detailed overview of the many Valentines.

How about the noble Encyclopedia Britannica? EB says only that St. Valentine is the “name of two legendary martyrs whose lives seem to be historically based. One was a Roman priest and physician who suffered martyrdom during the persecution of Christians by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus and was buried on the Via Flaminia. Pope St. Julius I reportedly built a basilica over his grave. The other, bishop of Terni, Italy, was martyred, apparently also in Rome, and his relics were later taken to Terni. It is possible these are different versions of the same original account and refer to only one person.”

And, American Catholic magazine? That’s one of today’s most popular sources of information for Catholic families. Editors at American Catholic conclude: “Although the mid-February holiday celebrating love and lovers remains wildly popular, the confusion over its origins led the Catholic Church, in 1969, to drop St. Valentine’s Day from the Roman calendar of official, worldwide Catholic feasts. Those highly sought-after days are reserved for saints with more clear historical record. After all, the saints are real individuals for us to imitate. Some parishes, however, observe the feast of St. Valentine.”

So,  if your friends start talking about the history of the “real” St. Valentine—you’re on solid ground to say: “Yes, but no one knows for sure.”

Clearly, churches are free to focus on St. Valentine’s Day—or ignore it—but Catholics worldwide are hearing about a new appeal from Pope Francis I, called “The Joy of Yes Forever.” For weeks now, Vatican officials have been organizing a special gathering of married couples from around the world for a special audience with the pontiff on February 14. Francis is planning to talk about the importance of marriage on the worldwide holiday.

CHOCOLATES, GREETINGS
AND VALENTINE CUSTOMS

Albeit a relatively new addition to Asian culture, Valentine’s Day claims its biggest spenders in this region: Customarily, women in South Korea and Japan give chocolates to all male co-workers, friends and lovers on February 14, with men returning the favor two- or threefold on “White Day,” which occurs on March 14. Residents of Singapore spend, on average, between $100 and $500 on Valentine’s Day gifts, according to a recent report.

French and Welsh households commemorate Christian saints of love, and in Finland and Latin American countries, “love” extends to friends and friendships. Western countries most often acknowledge Valentine’s Day with greeting cards, candies and romantic dinner dates. However, in Islamic countries, many officials have deemed Valentine’s Day as unsuitable for Islamic culture, and in Saudi Arabia, religious police have banned the sale of Valentine’s Day items.

DELICIOUS VALENTINE LINKS

Rows of homemade truffles covered in white chocolate, chocolate drizzles, sprinkles and dusting powder

Photo by Pison Jaujip, courtesy of Flickr

  • Kids can get a heart-ful dose of craft ideas at Spoonful.com.
  • Check out the most romantic restaurants in America by clicking over to Open Table, which rates the nation’s top eateries for lovers. (Photos included.)

IN THE NEWS:
DUCHESS KATE … AND MORE

Duchess Kate of England will open an art center on Valentine’s Day, reports Today.com. For two years, the royal has been a patron of Art Room, a charity that uses art as therapy for children with emotional and behavioral hurdles; today, she will be opening an Art Room at a London high school. The Valentine’s Day appearance will be Kate’s first official event of 2014.

House Democrats have prepared to launch “What Women Need for Valentine’s Day,” an online campaign that spreads awareness of women’s desire for equal pay and treatment in the workplace. Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon will join activists in sharing their Valentine’s Day wish list, which includes equal pay and, most likely, paid family and medical leave and affordable childcare.

Note: The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Saint Valentine’s Day on July 6 and July 30.