Well, from the Super Bowl of football, we now go to the super bowl of love – all in the same week. Perhaps this is an overstatement, but maybe not for some of us. From chips and sodas to pretzels and beer, we move on to gift shopping, date planning, flowers, boxes of chocolate, romantic dinners, and perhaps for some…nothing at all. However, since it is on the calendar, and for those who take an interest, I will proceed with a little history and some personal reflections. Just maybe, this will stir some of your memories of Valentine’s Days past and serve as a reminder of the deeper scope of love that sometimes escapes Cupid’s aim.
The history of Valentine’s Day and the story of its patron saint is quite extensive, but still a bit of a mystery. However, we do know that it contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend relates that Valentine was a priest who served during the 3rd century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Realizing the injustice of the decree, Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages in secret for young lovers. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered him put to death.
Other stories contend that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons. According to one legend, in 1415 Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent the first valentine to his girlfriend or wife from the Tower of London where he was imprisoned. It is said that before his death, he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine.” While the legends behind Valentine legends are complicated and inconclusive, the stories all emphasize his nature and appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and romantic figure.
Why is Valentine’s Day observed on February 14? Some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial. Others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, which was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. This celebration took place at the ides of February, or February 15.
Though Valentine’s Day did not begin to resemble the romantic holiday we know today until the Middle Ages, in America the tradition of the exchange of handmade valentines probably began in the mid-19th century. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Then, at about the same time, Richard Cadbury got in on the act by selling chocolate in heart-shaped boxes. By the early 1910s, an American company that would one day become Hallmark began distributing its more official “Valentine’s Day cards.”
Many of us probably have our own fond memories and stories of Valentine’s Day, as do I. I can remember exchanging Valentine’s Day cards in grade school and the first Valentine’s Day gift I gave my wife-to-be. That large red and white stuffed bear lived with us for over 40 years (the last 26 in the attic).
Now into our 45th year of marriage, with three children and three grandchildren, we still celebrate Valentine’s Day together. And, while our first Valentine’s Day together was indeed memorable and rooted “in love”, it really had little to do in a substantial way with what grew into a deep and substantive love and devotion in the years to come. The “…and the two shall become one” in our wedding vows took on real meaning through our Christian faith and commitment to each other as love’s scope and depth grew commensurate with our relationship to and faith in God. And…His teachings and our devotion did not include “quitting” in our vocabulary or as an option.
Among the things we learned were one another’s needs and how best to meet them. Humility – to admit wrongs over issues and disagreements (often petty). We learned that being right wasn’t always the most important purpose and outcome of an argument. We learned that an apology did not always serve to admit being wrong, but most importantly to restore our relationship. We learned not to end the day in anger or unforgiveness. We learned the power of prayer – praying earnestly for our unborn baby who was expected to have Down’s Syndrome or be stillborn. We learned the inconvenience of love – getting up in the middle of the night to care for a crying baby or worse, a sick one. And yes, it’s even changing that catastrophic blow-out diaper that came at a most inopportune time……
We learned how temporary and fragile life is when rushing a spouse on the brink of death with severe pneumonia to the hospital and praying that we get there in time. We learned that raising children means sacrificing for them and watching them grow and praying that they apply what you taught them – and then seeing them doing such, though not on our own timetable. Claiming Proverbs 22:6, which reminds us, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Always loving them unconditionally even when they made a wrong decision or let you down. We learned that parenting does not end at high school or college graduation – it is a lifetime role. We learned the blessed experience of holding a grandchild for the first time and taking joy in the simple things in life. We learned that marriage is not a 50-50 proposition – it is a 100-100 responsibility. We learned life is first not about either one of us – but about us and most importantly about God and His rightful place in the center of us and our family. Love is something we do. Love is what we go through together. Such has been our experience, and we are still learning. We didn’t always get it right, but we recognized when it was time for a course correction.
I will close with reference to a motion picture comedy, “Yours, Mine and Ours” (1968). The movie is based on a true story of a blended family with 18 children. The widow and widower are played by Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda. In response to his teenage daughter’s confident assertion of her own knowledge of love, while on the way to the hospital for his wife’s delivery of child number 19 the father wisely quipped, “It’s giving life that counts. Till you’re ready for it, the rest is just a big fraud. All the crazy haircuts in the world won’t keep it turning. Life isn’t a love-in; it’s the dishes and the orthodontist… and the shoe repairman… and ground round instead of roast beef. And I’ll tell you something else: it isn’t going to bed with a man that proves you’re in love with him; it’s getting up in the morning and facing the drab, miserable, wonderful everyday world with him that counts.”
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By Jeff Olson
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Click here to read “Making Life More Bearable: A Frightened Bear’s Legacy.”
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