Roses are red
Violets are blue
I think much ado is made of Saint Val’s Day
Do you think so too?
A new year is well underway. If January snowstorms and New Year’s car closeout sales weren’t obvious indicators, there is one other yearly winter occurrence that surely is. Before the final bars of “Auld Lang Syne” are even over, unwanted Christmas accoutrements have been banished to the back of wholesale stores everywhere to make way for Valentine’s Day.
Now, before I say one word more on the topic of all things red and pink, I want to assure you I thought long and hard about the angle to take when writing this article. First, there was the “Valentine’s-Day-is-just-another-mass-marketed-money-making-scheme-used-and-abused-by-companies-and-retailers-the-world-over” angle. This was closely followed by the “Millions-of-people-across-the-planet-are-celebrating-their-‘special-love’-with-their-special-loved-one-on-the-exact-same-day-in-the-exact-same-way-(candy-slash-flowers-slash-candlelit-dinners)-so-what-is-exactly-so-ahem-‘special’-(or romantic)-about-that?” angle.
I’m not dissing the standard celebrations. Flowers always delight; chocolate is always welcome. But you have to admit there is a particular irony to the situation. (It is also this irony that makes me fairly unsympathetic to those unattached souls who sigh their way through the day, sad that no standard-issue box of Whitman’s is coming their way. Yes, it’s nice to know someone values you enough to buy you sweets and blooms, a dinner out, or maybe even the latest Jane Seymour design from Kay Jewelers. But, when “everyone else is doing it,” you can’t help but ask if it’s not that you’re missing out on “something special” as much as it is simply the cursory response to some good old-fashioned, yet highly glamorized peer pressure.)
But I’ve shared my views concerning the materialistic and perfunctory aspects of holidays before and figured I should change it up a bit. I also didn’t want to appear too pragmatic (read: jaded). This is a holiday that “celebrates” love, after all.
So then I thought about taking a walk down memory lane and reminiscing about Valentine’s gone by. You know, focusing on the days of our youth, when Valentine’s Day was nothing but exciting, and that excitement revolved around afternoon school parties filled with heart-shaped red hots, petrified-sugar candies imprinted with messages like “Be Mine” and “U R Sweet,” and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Valentine cards. Those were the days, weren’t they? When everyone felt loved because you had to stick a Valentine in everyone’s construction paper, heart-shaped, hot-glued, glitter-covered petrified-candy-and-card holder. In retrospect, perhaps a rather socialistic view of love, but perfectly acceptable for nine year olds who have the rest of their lives to learn what words like “lovelorn,” “unrequited,” and “rejection” mean.
But, like the candy, this view seemed a little stale. So then I thought perhaps highlighting the origin of Valentine’s Day might be a more enlightening (read: spiritual) way to go. The holiday is named for a saint, after all. But the surrounding stories seem more the stuff of legends than history. One version says that Valentine’s Day, like many other Christian holidays, found its beginning as the Christian answer to an already existing pagan holiday. Another states that there were actually three Saint Valentines who were, coincidentally, all martyred on February 14.
The most traditionally accepted view of the holiday’s inception is that it was named for Saint Valentine of the third century, who was martyred for helping Christians get married when the institution was outlawed by the Roman emperor. While awaiting his fate, this same Valentine was also purported to have healed the jailer’s blind daughter, which brought about the conversion of the jailer and his entire household. The story goes that, upon being sentenced to death, he wrote a letter to the girl, signing it, “From your Valentine.” While a miraculous healing is surely the stuff of the book of Acts (and the bit about the letter the stuff of Hallmark movies), its documentation, and therefore believability, is hardly of the same caliber. This made focusing on “laying down our lives for the real love of Christ” in light of a legend seem a bit stale, too.
After going through this whole exhaustive thought process, what I was left with was an image—just one simple but striking image.
Not the funniest cartoon card I ever got as a child, the most beautiful bouquet of flowers ever delivered to my door, or the most romantic gift I’ve ever received (which was, just FYI, circa 1991). Rather, it was a white, paper-lace heart from my mother’s storage cupboard. It wasn’t an actual card, just a pretty, napkin-y sort of thing to put on a red plastic plate under a batch of brownies or some other treat. It was probably sold in a pack of 12, but, as Valentine’s comes but once a year, my mom really only made use of one or two at a time. Accordingly, the edges of the remaining faux doilies got crumpled with years of storage until, finally, I somehow stumbled upon the last, tired-looking one.
Of all the Valentine’s Day memories and thoughts I’ve experienced, this is the one that’s stuck with me. You see, sentimental love, immature love, legends of love: These tend to be the types of love lauded on Valentine’s Day. Passion, feelings, and emotions celebrated with red and pink flowers, dark chocolate, and sometimes even diamond hearts. And I think that’s okay. But love is really more like that white, crinkly paper heart: pure and fragile and yet, somehow, lasting a really long time—despite getting crumpled around the edges.
So however you’re spending this Valentine’s Day—whether it be in a breathless state of new love, struggling with feelings of loneliness, or perhaps a bit tired of the same cards-and-candy routine—I sincerely pray you experience a bit of that crinkly, paper-heart love today. Maybe from your spouse who, despite knowing how to push all your buttons, still loves you most and loves you best. Maybe from a friend who might not be able to solve all your romantic woes, but surely knows how to lend an ear and a shoulder when you need one most. Maybe from the paper construction hearts your kids bring home from school. They might not come with those Gold Crown stickers, but they were made with more love than any $7 card ever could be.
Or maybe this weathered-and-worn, yet tried-and-true love will come from the Spirit of our Lord Jesus himself. His love is, after all, the strongest, the purest, the most tested, the most proved. His love is unchanging and daily, not just once a year. He looks at each of us and asks . . .
“Will you be Mine, Beloved? Beloved . . . will you be Mine?”
I pray you hear Him asking today.
And I pray you have a happy Valentine’s Day.
Image copyright PeachBlossom.co.uk.
Annie Provencher is a writer in Northern Virginia.