Singles hate him, candy companies love him, but who was he?!
For over a millennia, legends have been swirling about how Valentine's Day began. Allegedly, a good priest named Valentine was put to death for marrying couples in secret because the awful Emperor Claudius II banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Claudius wanted young men out fighting in his army, not off being devoted to their sweethearts. Once Valentine was caught performing clandestine nuptials, he was put in prison. It is rumored that, while he was incarcerated, Valentine befriended the jailer's daughter and wrote her a kind note signed, "From Your Valentine." On February 14, he was put to death by beheading.
Yes, folks, every year we celebrate an execution with chalk-flavored candy hearts that read, "HOT STUFF." Y'all, don't make me get started on what the western world did to Easter ...
The problem with this holiday's backstory is that there were other holy individuals named Valentine, all canonized, who were also martyred on February 14. I suppose that if enough people are put to death for their beliefs on the same day, it's probably for the best that a holiday is observed in their honor.
During this era, there was also a pagan festival in Ancient Rome known as Lupercalia, which took place on February 15. Due to the wild, raucous, and #metoo-worthy events of this gathering, decorum prevents me from writing it here on OCN. But let's just say this: To rein in this behavior and make this time of year way more wholesome in honor of Saint Valentine, Pope Gelasius I abolished Lupercalia and declared that February 14 be respected for the martyred Valentine.
Fast-forward to the Middle Ages when it was believed that birds mated on February 14, which in turn made this day all about love and romance—a tradition that has continued.
While we'll never really know the truth about the life and deeds of Saint Valentine, we can (and should) appreciate his selflessness and faithfulness. You don't need a dedicated holiday to show kindness and love to others; that should be an everyday goal for everyone. If you need an even better reference for what love is all about (no candy or flowers necessary), please refer to 1 Corinthians 13 below, read by Johnny Cash.
And if you're blue about not having a Valentine this year, go be your best Valentine and treat yourself to something sweet.