The 14th of February marks the celebration of Valentine’s Day the world over. Left to me, this day would have continued to hold zero significance had it not fallen on the day I obtained my Certificate of National Service. Now that I consider it in retrospect, my Passing out Ceremony couldn’t have fallen on a better day than this. I say so because the essence of Valentine and National Youth Service hinge on the idea service and sacrifice.
To set the record straight, I don’t celebrate I don’t. Or should I just say that the mind-set behind its present day celebration does not appeal to me. Many times, when I give this type of response to those who ask if I celebrate the day or not, I get shades of feedback. To some, I am uptight and hopelessly conservative. Another set of opinion valuers believe I’m unromantic while others think I’m simply miserly. I simply smile in response to these fantastic evaluations of my Valentinic perception. That I don’t celebrate the day doesn’t however mean I have issues with those who do – one man’s food is another man’s poison. Writing on this subject would therefore not be an act of self-defence but rather a clarification of my point of view.
Certain factors determine my worldview. These factors also dictate how I relate to/with events and phenomena. For instance, I’ll rather let my brain do the thinking than my emotions. I don’t believe in the band-wagon philosophy and would therefore relate with an idea based on my inclination and informed perception . Also, before plugging into an idea, I often like to understand the rationale behind it. I should therefore like to investigate the origin of this celebration, its essence and it has evolved. The knowledge of the foregoing would then form the premise of my association or otherwise with the celebration.
The 14th of February is a day set aside by the Catholic church to remember and honour the virtues of a Catholic priest named Valentinus who lived and was martyred in Rome in the 3rd century. This exceptional man would later be bestowed with sainthood hence the original name Saint Valentine’s day or the Feast of Saint Valentine.
There however has been an age-old debate among religious scholars about the exact identity of the Valentine who is being celebrated. According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia, there were at least three early Catholic saints by that name. One was a Roman priest, the other a bishop of Terni while little is known about the third except that he died in a part of Africa. These individuals were said to have been martyred in different years but the same day and month – Feb 14.
Based on consensus, the Valentine who was priest in Rome was agreed to be the one to whom the day was dedicated. Legend has it that the Valentine in question lived during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius II. The emperor was a pagan and therefore fomented persecution against the Christian faith. Because he believed that unmarried men made good and committed soldiers, he forbade his soldiers from marrying. Valentine, being a man of conviction chose to contend for the faith. He not only secretly joined converted Roman soldiers and their brides in marriage but also provided succour and protection to the Christians who are being persecuted. Emperor Claudius II later caught wind of Valentine’s activities and charged him with treachery against the empire. While in prison, it was said that he prayed for the blind daughter of his jailor and her sight was restored. This singular act prompted the jailor and his family to convert to Christianity. He was eventually beheaded in 296 AD on the 14th of February. It was in 496 AD that Pope Gelasius designated Feb. 14 as Saint Valentine’s Day.
We can glean a number of facts from the history of the man in whose name the feast is supposedly being celebrated. The man Valentine was a priest – a Christian. This automatically gives the celebration a religious undertone. In fact, it originated as a Western Christian feast. He wasn’t just a Christian but also a man who understood what love means: sacrificial and selfless. More so, he was a man of conviction and was ready to die for what he believed in. Furthermore, he never stopped doing good even in the most unlikely circumstance. It takes a man of faith to heal the daughter of his jailor.
If the details gleaned from the personality of Valentine are anything to go by, the present day celebration of the day is a complete departure from what its progenitor stood for. To be candid, what most people celebrate today isn’t Valentine’s day but ‘lover’s day’. Although was an embodiment of love, his expression of love was humanitarian and was hinged on a moral cum spiritual compass and not some random display of romantic love. 7 out 10 people you ask about the significance of Valentine’s day are quick to say “it’s meant for the celebration of love”. They however become elusive and indeterminate when you ask them what love is being celebrated and how they celebrate it.
It’s obvious that the origin of this day for the expression of love isn’t romantic at all. Romantic connotations came to be associated with the saint and the celebration in the middle ages – a time when the practice of courtly love flourished. Geoffrey Chaucer (the acclaimed father of English literature) was credited to have inspired the romantic colouration of the ceremony after he wrote “Parliament of Foules” where he argued that birds chose their mates in mid-February and went ahead to situate it on Valentine’s day: “For this was Saint Valentine’s day…”. After Chaucer, people began associating Saint Valentine’s Day with romantic love.
Now that we know what is being celebrated is not Valentine’s day but lovers’ day, you’ll ask me “what’s the big deal in celebrating lovers’ day?” Well, that also depends on what lovers’ day is all about, who the lovers are and what the lovers do on that day. While, at least, I understand the dictionary meaning of the term ‘lover’ (one who loves and cares for another in a romantic way…), I don’t seem to understand what lovers are supposed to do on that day. Also, I’m at a loss as to the dynamics of love being expressed on that day. If I have to wait for a single day out of 365 (annual or once-in-a-year lover) days to ‘express love’, shouldn’t ‘my lover’ be wary of me and think twice. If I treat you with love and respect (in a moral and godly manner) every time, what do I do with/for you on the 14th of February? Do I need to wait till the next ‘Valentine’s day’ to give you a treat or show you how genuinely I love you? If I satisfy the preceding conditions and you still tell me “but errm, can’t we just do something special on that day”, then I should ask you to define “something special”.
I find the dramas that heralds and mar the celebration very interesting: A guy in Yaba decided to find an occasion to have an altercation with his girlfriend few days to Valentine’s day just because he couldn’t afford to part with his money on the D-day. Lady Who had a disagreement with her guy because he couldn’t even call her to say “happy Valentine” – that led to a breakup. The belle that double-dates is at a dilemma over who ends up been her val. In a bid to make the day special, Jack and Jane leads each other into temptation and do what only married couples should do. My next-door neighbour ended up being broke at the end of Valentine’s Day just because he wanted to do oversabi for his babe. In short, the drama is a mind blowing series with seemingly unending episodes. I don’t think our dear Saint Valentine will be pleased to see the dramas enacted in his name and therefore will not like to add to his grief.
When the purpose of a thing is not established, abuse is inevitable. The truth is you have no business celebrating Valentine’s Day if you don’t understand the true nature of love (1Cor13 will do justice to that). I do not celebrate Valentine’s Day but I celebrate its original essence. I celebrate that essence when:
I tell people about and bring them to the Love of Christ regularly
I have love in my heart and not in my feelings
I position myself to be a blessing unto others
I visit and give what I can to the motherless and the disabled
I pray for you and wish you well even in your absence
I put your feelings first
I treat my friends and loved ones with love and respect
I choose to believe the best of/in you even when you appear irredeemable
I share in your pain and joy
I can tell you “I’m sorry” (and mean it) when I’m wrong and accept your “I’m sorry” without misgivings
I can go the extra mile for you
A man who understands love need not wait for a ‘special day’ to celebrate it.
I rest my case.