Valentine’s Day: The Origins of the Day of Love

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Forward: Our Guest Contributor, speaker and Author, Alexander Verbeek Shares His Valentine’s Day Wishes

Valentine’s Day is a tradition that not only connects you to your loved ones but one that connects us to nearly two thousand years of history.

When I grew up in the Netherlands, I had never heard of Valentine’s Day. But in the past decades, it has become more popular to celebrate this day of romance and love. Recent Dutch research found that only 21 percent of people born before 1985 are doing anything special on the February 14th Valentine’s celebration. But amongst the Dutch youth born between 2001 and 2015, nearly 47% celebrate this day.

So it seems the generation of Greta Thunberg, which reminded world leaders to love and protect our beautiful planet, is also the generation that tells their loved ones of their feelings on Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day: 24 billion dollars

The American media seem to prefer a different set of statistics to measure the popularity of a day of romance. I just learned that Americans are spending more this year on Valentine’s Day to show their love. I can only assume that the predicted spending of nearly 24 billion dollars on Valentine’s Day gifts must mean that Americans love each other a lot.

To put this amount in perspective: U.S. citizens spend about 50 times more money on this one day than the total annual budget of UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme. I love it when people love each other but fail to understand the concept of expressing that by expensive gifts.

Americans that plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day will on average spend about 200 dollars this year. But, according to researchers, that amount is significantly higher for those in the early stages of a relationship. Perhaps that explains our low funding for institutions like UNEP to preserve the planet we love. It is a more than 200,000-year-old relationship; the honeymoon is over, and we take our relationship with nature for granted.

The many historic Valentines

Valentine’s Day hasn’t always been a day of spending. So I wonder what Valentine himself would say if we could somehow contact him in the forgotten corners of history. That’s a challenge that is even more complicated than it already is since we don’t really know which Valentine is the one we celebrate.

Hearts everywhere: this is on the south coast of Turkey (photo: Yuriy Vinnicov)

There is a handful of Valentines in history. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints who were martyred and were named Valentine or Valentinus. Two of them, both named Valentine, were executed by Emperor Claudius II on February 14th in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church by celebrating St. Valentine’s Day.

My favorite of these Valentines is the one who secretly performed marriages for young lovers. He decided to do this since the emperor had outlawed marriage for young soldiers since he believed that single men were the best fighters. This Valentine is known as Saint Valentine of Rome. It distinguishes him from the many other Valentines, including the one who was also executed by the same emperor, outside the gates of the same city, and on February 14th, who is known as Saint Valentine of Terni. Rome is a city of many Valentines, many saints, and many executions of Christians. To make this story even more complicated: there is even a Pope Valentine.

Signed: “From your Valentine”

But my votes for the real Valentine are for Saint Valentine of Rome, mainly because of the love story during his imprisonment. In the murky past of some two millennia ago, rumor has it that he fell in love with the beautiful daughter of his jailer who visited him in his cell. And while waiting for his execution, he writes a Cavaradossian last love letter that he signed: “From your Valentine.”

I love this story, and I suppose that all those other Valentines are just fake news. So Saint Valentine of Rome is the true hero of romantic love. But unfortunately, the Catholic Church has judged him differently; it stopped veneration of him in 1969, even though he is still listed as an official saint.

But that decision has not stopped Valentine’s Day’s meteoric rise in popularity. Millions of couples officially get engaged each year on this day, which is one of the most popular days of the year to pop the question.

Romeo and Juliette’s balcony in Verona (photo: Maksym Harbar)

It is also the busiest season in Verona, where thousands of letters will arrive again, all addressed to Juliet in Verona. A team of volunteers is kindly answering each of them. If you saw the movie “Letter to Juliet,” you will remember the Juliet Club: the ladies that answer the letters to Juliet. Amanda Seyfried joins them in this 2010 romantic comedy with Vanessa Redgrave.

It’s a beautiful modern tradition that wouldn’t be there without William Shakespeare, who helped to romanticize Valentine’s Day in his work. He mentions the day of Saint Valentine in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and in “Hamlet,” where he alludes to the superstition that if two single people meet on the morning of Saint Valentine’s Day, they will likely get married:

“Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day,

All in the morning bedtime,

And I a maid at your window,

To be your Valentine.”

Love is all

So here we are; it’s another Valentine’s Day. It is a tradition that not only connects you to your loved ones but one that connects us to nearly two thousand years of history. It is celebrated by hundreds of millions of people all over the world. We all love other people, it can be romantic love for your lover, and there is your love for your kids, parents, other family members, or your best friends. And all of them love other people.

Our love for each other is more contagious than Omicron and is a worldwide network older and better than the internet. It connects all of us all over the planet. I hope you will think about that in the days to come when you read about development all over the world.

I wish you a lovely Valentine’s Day.

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