This last week before Valentine’s Day, I was thinking of what I should get my wife. Last year I had gotten her flowers, but this year, I needed to up my game a little. I usually get off work at 5 p.m. and make the 40 minute drive home in time for dinner. I needed to find an excuse if I show up home late from work, but could not find one. Lo and behold, pastor called a special leaders’ meeting, and it was a day before Valentine’s–perfect timing. An hour and half will be more than enough for me to find the perfect gift for her. I drove to the store Thursday after work and found a mad dash of people, all looking for gifts for their loved ones. I thought a day before Valentine’s wouldn’t be as bad, but I was wrong. The front shelves were covered with teddy bears, flowers, cards and all kinds of Valentine’s Day gifts. I walked to the card section of the store, but the aisles were full of people. My head was spinning, trying to figure out what I would get my wife. I walked to the back of the store to gather my thoughts.
Focus, James, focus.
This should not be this hard. I normally don’t go shopping, and if I do, I usually have a list of things I will get, and will be in and out of the store in no time. This time I didn’t have a clue what I was going to get her, but I knew it was going to be something other than flowers. I walked around for at least 40 minutes before I found myself in the fresh produce section. What was I doing there? I was supposed to be finding something for my wife. How romantic would it be for me to come home to my wife with lettuce and collard greens for a gift? I could have pulled it off if I told her that I was going to be making her favorite Zambian dish, but I couldn’t hide the food until the next day. Time was closing in on me. I needed to find something quick and head out of the store in time for the meeting.
Then it hit me. What am I doing? Is this the only time of the year I have to show my wife that I really love her? I have 365 days to be creative and do something special for her. Yet I found myself scrambling to get something she might not even like. Why do we even celebrate Valentine’s Day in the first place? How did it even come about?
I have celebrated Valentine’s with my wife for years, but never have I really known how the day came to be associated with romantic love until this past week. I pulled out my phone and searched Google for information about its origin.
Valentine’s Day started as a religious celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. Valentinus is a Roman masculine name which derived from the Latin word “valens” which means “healthy, strong”. So the word doesn’t even mean love. Several stories surfaced about different martyrs sharing a similar name centered on February 14. One of the famous stories was that of St. Valentine of Rome who believed to have been imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were not allowed to marry and for preaching to Christians, who were persecuted by the Roman Empire. Legend has it that during his time in prison, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius. An embellished story states that before he was executed, he wrote a letter to Asterius and signed it “Your Valentine” as a farewell.
It wasn’t until the High Middle Ages when the day was first associated with romantic love and the tradition of courtly love flourished. In England during the 18th century, the day had evolved to an occasion were lovers showed their love for each other by giving flowers and sending handwritten cards. During the 19th century, the handwritten cards had given way to the commercialized mass produced ones.
How a day of celebration for religious martyrs came to be associated with romantic love for couples is anybody’s guess. Don’t get me wrong, I like to get away and do something special for my wife. I enjoy getting her flowers, chocolate, and having a romantic dinner. There is nothing wrong with getting each other expensive gifts; we can’t really put a price tag on love. It is the commercialization of days like Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas that gets me. Our culture makes us think we need certain things such as manicure, pedicures, flowers, date nights, and expensive jewelry. This creates in us certain expectation of ourselves, of people, and of life in general, and when these so called needs aren’t met, we become disappointed and disillusioned, sometimes creating division among our loved ones.
Millions of dollars are spent by companies creating TV, internet and billboard Ads that tells us we cannot live without certain things, and that we deserve more stuff. We have bought into the lie that says you are worth more than what you have now; you deserve better. And the flip side to that is if you don’t have this stuff, then you don’t have value. We are constantly bombarded with the message that you can only find happiness in gathering more stuff. If our love for each other was measured by material things we get on holidays such as Valentine’s, then the absence of these things would mean that we are not loved. When we put more emphasis on stuff, we send a wrong message to people; a message that says you are worth only as the things you receive. There were a lot of relationships that started this last Valentine’s, but there was also heartbreak that came from unfulfilled expectations. I hear things like we broke up because “she doesn’t do things she used to do anymore” or “he used to buy me flowers and take me out every Valentine’s but he stopped; I’ve finally had it.” Of course, there are many other underlying issues that lead to couples breaking up.
Love is more than the things we get, and it does not change based on how we feel. Love is intentional and not an afterthought. We have 364 other days out of the year to do something special for our loved ones. Showing love does not have to involve buying expensive gifts, but could be as simple as spending time together, cooking a special meal for a loved one, or going for an evening walk. It’s the little acts of love we do throughout the year that makes a big difference. When we take the time to stop and think about our loved ones regularly, we might discover that what they want the most is not the stuff we get them, but simply our presence. An expression of love that says: through it all, I am standing by your side. I will always love you expecting nothing in return–sacrificial love.
So what’s your take on Valentine’s Day?