Does the history behind the holiday live up to the modernized Valentine’s Day?

How Valentine’s vision affects us today

Love is in the air. IFlirtz and Valentine’s grams are on sale, meaning Valentine’s Day is just around the corner at Oak Park High School. Couples and single folks alike are excited to revel in this day of love and show appreciation to the people who mean the most to them. But what about the holiday’s namesake, the lovebird who started it all?

For how much of an impact the holiday has on our lives, many of us seemingly know remarkably little about its history, and its central figures remain shrouded in mystery. Everyone knows that Christmas has Santa Claus. It isn’t a shock that Easter has the Easter Bunny. But relatively few can tell you that Valentine’s Day has Saint Valentine.

“I didn’t know St. Valentine existed at all,” said senior Hayden Lynch. “I thought Cupid was Valentine’s Day’s mascot.”

As it turns out, there are at least three distinct individuals known as St. Valentine. A feast is held for each one on the February 14th holiday. However, one of the three is especially emblematic of the holiday spirit, the Saint Valentine of our hearts and minds.

This Valentine was a third-century Roman priest and physician, canonized by the Catholic Church after his death. The patron saint of beekeepers, people with epilepsy and all sorts of lovers, Valentine was a martyr who suffered persecution at the hands of the Roman Emperor Claudius the Cruel. 

Under his rule, Claudius banned marriages and engagements to sever family ties and make young men more willing to join the military and go overseas. Stories tell that Valentine secretly officiated weddings between young people, defying Claudius’ decree. 

For this, Valentine was imprisoned, beaten with clubs, and beheaded on February 14th, around 270 C.E. 

According to legend, while he was held in prison, Saint Valentine signed a letter “from your Valentine” to his jailer’s daughter, who he is said to have befriended and cured of blindness. So the next time you ask somebody to be your Valentine, you have the saint’s jailer’s daughter to thank.

In the centuries since his execution, Valentine’s legacy has become synonymous with candy hearts and giant stuffed bears, the commercial idols that define our conception of the holiday of love. And when we celebrate his day today, we must ask ourselves: is this what Valentine would have wanted?

Valentine’s Day is a complicated holiday. It may not receive the ire that such holidays as Thanksgiving and the previously-dubbed Columbus Day have garnered in recent years, but Valentine’s Day has been met with some skepticism, and rightly so.

“I think it’s a commercialized holiday,” said teacher Mr. Chevalier. “You should tell the people you love that you love them every day.”

There is an unspoken cheapness to modern-day Valentine’s Day festivities. Purchase and excess have eroded the gleaming marble of honest-to-goodness romance that figures like Valentine stood to preserve. Impersonal investments have taken the place of meaningful acts of devotion as the memory of the holiday’s impetus fades from our collective consciousness.

It is not the tokens of appreciation that define our love. The sacrifices we make, the everyday acts of minor martyrdom imbue our love with unrivaled power and purity. So this Valentine’s Day, consider paying homage to the namesake saint by taking a risk for the sake of love; and then do it tomorrow, the next day and every single day after that.