Happy Valentine’s Day

Remember only this of our hopeless love
That never till Time is done
Will the fire of the heart and the fire of the mind be one.
~Edith Sitwell

In many countries, such as Finland and Estonia, Valentine’s Day is actually called “Friend’s Day,” and it is a time to celebrate all of your loved ones, romantic or otherwise. After several years of solitude (not all of it voluntary), I’m very grateful for having an exceptional person like Vivian in my life. But I also take this occasion to rejoice in all the wonderful people who have enriched my life. Cheers to all of you, from pleasant acquaintances to trusted confidants, for making my life so much better! I wish the best of luck to all your current – and still pending – relationships!

It’s still disputed as to where the traditional “heart shape” came from. One suggestion is that it’s based on the seed of the silphium plant, which was used in ancient times as an herbal contraceptive. Another suggestion is that it represents the features of the human female body, such as an idealized female buttocks, vaginal area, or a spread vulva. Less erotically, it could also be derived from the shape made by swans necks during their courting ritual.

Interestingly, the inverted heart symbol has sometimes been used in medieval heraldry to represent stylized testicles, too.

As for the origins, like most Western holidays, Valentine’s Day has its origins in Christianity, namely the Catholic Church. And like most holidays, its link to the past—namely to its origins—is tenuous and mostly mysterious. The term Valentine, in its original Latin Valentinus, derives from the key word Valens, meaning ‘worthy.’ It was a relatively popular name among in olden times, including with Saints. The Church, however, had at least a dozen St. Valentines that it officially recognized until 1969, when he probably figured they could stand to shed a few. The men associated with the date February 14th, Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Temi, were martyred for their faith but beyond that neither had any known romantic element in their lives or death. It would seem that like most holidays, namely Halloween and Christmas, the various traditions and themes associated with Valentine’s Day would turn out to be Industrial-era additions added either for commercial reasons or even for the very hell of it.

However, during my research I came upon one possible lead: the Legenda Sanctorum, also known as the Legenda Aurea: the Golden Legend. Though it sounds like some Lovecraftian occult tome, it is actually an embellished collection of hagiographies: biographies of Saints, written around the year 1260 and added upon much in following years. Now to be honest, it’s inconclusive how factual this may have been and it could very well be made up, but it makes for an interesting and compelling story (besides, most holiday myths are, well, just that!).

Anyway, in it, there is mention of another St. Valentine whose full name is unknown. He lived during the short reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II, around the third century AD. Apparently, Claudius II issued a decree banning young men from marrying, believing that doing so would bolster the ranks of his army since he felt single men made better and more willing soldiers, i.e. they don’t have a family to live for so it makes for fearlessness, so his logic apparently goes. Valentine, then a priest – Rome was gradually becoming Christianized – ignored the law for the sake of love and arranged marriages for young men in secret.

When this was found out, he was arrested, thrown in jail, and sentenced to death. During this time, it was said he remained a loving and patient man, even trying to convert Claudius to Christianity – though it failed, and by some accounts led him to finally be executed. He also befriended and fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, who by some accounts was blind until he healed her. The day he was to be executed, February 14th, he wrote a letter to her, professing all his love and admiration…and it began with the famous words: “From your Valentine…”

Another origin story for Valentine’s Day involves the Christianization of the Greco-Roman festival known as Lupercalia, an ancient pagan holiday celebrated around February 14th or so. It supposedly involved either fertility, shepherds, or  both.

You can read more about the origin’s from the History Channel’s website. Either way, I wish you a happy one, whatever it means to you.