This week we are telling stories of Valentine’s Day and, let’s get it right to start with, it started as SAINT Valentine’s Day.
With an idea borrowed from The American Catholic, I offer a quiz:
Who was St. Valentine?
1: a priest or bishop in ancient Roman who helped early Christians during their persecution by Emperor Claudius II, and was beheaded on Feb. 14. He sent letters to an old girlfriend of his, hence the beginning of valentines
2: a priest who secretly married couples when marriage was forbidden in Africa, and sent letters out praising matrimony and love, hence the beginning of valentines
3: a persecuted early Christian who was beheaded, but had written letters to the jailer’s daughter, which is the first ‘valentine’
4: one or more of the above…or not
# 4, because, who knows?
According to the official laws of the Catholic Church, saints are anyone who has made it to Heaven; ANYONE. The ones recognized,( and therefore, allotted a feast day), are those they feel are as sure as they can be that the person is, indeed, in Heaven…as sure as they can even be that there is a Heaven. However, throughout the millennia many names were addressed as saints, people whose stories came down in oral tradition and, as in St. Valentine’s case, cannot even be confirmed. So, some years ago the Church removed St. Valentine “from the calendar”, removing his official feast day. As with most saints who have been removed, I believe St. Valentine may still be invoked in private prayer, but not officially or in public. The tradition is so strong that he was a martyr that it gives him a bit of leeway…as they say, “It couldn’t hurt”.
[Saints are not supposed to be prayed to except to ask for their prayers to God. The thought is, the holier the person, the more God will listen. It’s almost like asking your mother to approach your dad for something for you when you are afraid he’ll say “no” and might listen to her reasoning. Saints have no power of their own. Only God has power. They may be venerated, as you would your saintly grandmother’s memory, but they are not worshiped.]
Those who die because of or defending the Faith [martyrs] are usually given automatic ‘saint’ status, assuming that such an act would rather get you a free pass through the Pearly Gates.
The feast of St. Valentine was also on the Roman holiday of Lupercalia, where young men would draw the names of young women with whom they would have intimate relations for the year. You can imagine that the early Christians decided that that had to stop, so they began the tradition of valentines, a day where young men would seek the affection of the available young women, often in hand-written declarations of love… and if romantic stories involving a man named Valentine helped affections go from carnal to somewhat more spiritual, all the better.
As I said, who knows? One of those stories may be true, after all.
The practice of sending “valentines” and small gifts to a person’s beloved became common during the Middle Ages. A real boost to the practice was when Charles, the duke of Orleans, sent what was perhaps the first real valentine card to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was released some time after and lived for many, many years. (He wasn’t the inspiration for the story of St. Valentine.)
The idea of everyone giving valentines to everyone else is very recent. It probably started with schoolchildren, but I am not knocking it. I think it’s cute for the most part. When my kids were small, they loved Easter Egg Hunts, so I would cut hearts of varying sizes and colors out of construction paper and hide them around the house…sometimes several times! Even when they were older I would make heart-shaped candy and cookies and anything else I could come up with…like a heart-shaped pizza…and hearts cut out of pepperoni rounds to place on top.(Both the hearts and the remaining rounds with hearts cut out would be on the pizza.) I don’t remember everything but I had fun.
Now, the grandkids are not often here for Valentines Day and I don’t go all-out, the fancy poster board cut-outs and window clings won’t go up this year, either. But I dare to guess there will be cookies cut out into hearts and iced in pink and/or red.
What about you? Any traditions at your house?