Whether you like it or loathe it (and, as I’ve mentioned before, I am in the latter category) you can’t escape Valentine’s Day. Every shop brings out their Valentine’s range in January (I’ve already had a Valentine’s Lush bath bomb and a Valentine’s Krispy Kreme because, apparently, that’s a thing), people post all about it on social media, love is in the air, and there’s nowhere to hide from the saccharine, obnoxious lovefest that falls on February 14th. But how did we get here? Who was this St. Valentine that started such a romantic revolution, and is it possible to honour his legacy with something better than red roses and a box of chocs?
The origins of Valentine’s day are actually a bit of a mystery. According to one legend, St. Valentine was a priest who, during the third century, performed secret wedding ceremonies in Rome in rebellion against an unjust law banning young people from getting married (Emperor Claudius II believed single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families). Valentine fought back, fought with love, fought for love, before he was discovered and put to death – supposedly on February 14th. Another story goes that Valentine was martyred for helping Christians escape harsh Roman prisons. Whatever the true details might be, one thing is for certain: Valentine was a social justice warrior with a heart for other people.
So how has his day become so insular? How did it go from secret ceremonies and prison breaks to sappy, commercial, couple love? For Valentine, loving people didn’t only extend to a significant other, and it certainly didn’t stop at one day of ticking romantic boxes. For Valentine, love meant stepping out and doing something for other people. Love meant taking a risk and letting it cost you. Love meant sacrificing everything – even your life – to make sure people felt loved and justice was served. Perhaps we don’t need to take it to the point of martyrdom, but doesn’t that sound way better than buying a cheesy card that your other half doesn’t even want?
Because maybe we can’t escape Valentine’s Day, but we can reclaim it in honour of the good man who started it all. Maybe we can choose to use this day as a mission; a mission to go out and love people radically and wholeheartedly, to love them the way Valentine would, to love them the way Jesus would. That might look like different things to different people. You might know someone for whom this lovey-dovey day is particularly difficult – shower them with love. You might know people who need justice – who are sleeping rough or facing poverty or tied up in legal red tape – shower them with love. You might fancy going undercover like Valentine did, and showing people love secretly so they don’t know it’s you. Do it.
Let’s be radical Valentines. Let’s extend our reach beyond our own little bubble. Let’s love people until it hurts, until it costs, until it’s Jesus’ love. Sure, you can stick to your couple and do nothing more than smugly eat your V-Day Krispy Kreme – but you’re never going to get made into a Saint doing that.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti