Why ‘Valentine’s Day’?

February 10, 2020

Friday will be Valentine’s Day again, February 14, the day dedicated to lovers.

So how did the name of an early Christian martyr get linked with a day when websites and shop windows everywhere use that name to boost sales and make profits? What has it to do with romantic love, if anything?

Several different and conflicting stories exist which may refer to different people, but more probably to the same person. One for example describes a priest who dared to disobey the Claudius II, the Roman emperor, and secretly married Christian couples, so that the husbands could avoid conscription at a time when the empire needed more soldiers. As a reminder to the men of their vows and of God’s love, Valentine gave them hearts cut out from parchment.

Other accounts make Valentine (derived from valens [strong, worthy, healthy]) a priest in Rome, or a bishop in Umbria, central Italy, who was put under house arrest by a judge named Asterius. In response to Valentine’s efforts to convince him that Jesus was God’s son, the judge brought his adopted daughter, who was blind and deaf, to his prisoner challenging him to demonstrate God’s reality by healing her. Valentine prayed for the girl, laid his hands on her eyes and she was healed.

Valentine then told the judge, deeply impressed by what he had just seen, to rid his house of all idols, fast for three days and be baptised. The judge obeyed, freed all Christian prisoners under his authority, and was baptized along with forty-four members of his household.

‘From your Valentine’

Persisting in his evangelism, Valentine found himself arrested again and brought before Claudius II, the emperor in Rome, who at first admired his prisoner. But when Valentine tried to convince the him to become a Christian, the emperor commanded him to renounce his faith or be beaten with clubs and beheaded. Valentine refused and so was executed on February 14, 269. But not before writing a note to Asterius’ daughter, signed ‘from your Valentine’, the origin of today’s romantic messages.

On the first anniversary of the engagement between King Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia (both only 14 at the time), Geoffrey Chaucer, the 14th century English writer famous for his Canterbury Tales, wrote a poem linking the engagement date with Valentine’s Day:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make. [“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”]

Mid-February was seen as the start of the natural mating season which, since Chaucer, has been hitched to the romance of Valentine.

Marriage Week

This week, ending in Valentine’s Day, is designated in a growing number of countries as Marriage Week, a week to give special attention to one’s marriage relationship.

My friend Richard Kane, founder of Marriage Week, is fond of saying: ‘If you are fortunate to be in a marriage, you should look after it.’ Men recognise the importance of maintaining their cars, he notes, doing repairs and having regular check-ups. Why should that be more important than ‘marriage-maintenance’?

Some years ago, Richard was standing in the checkout line at a home improvement store watching couples purchasing expensive items to improve their homes. How much do these couples spend on improving their marriages? he wondered.

This thought led Richard and his wife Maria to launch the idea of an annual Marriage Week, a time to say ‘Wake up! Marriage is a great idea’, and, for those who are married, a time to remember why they fell in love in the first place. He is convinced that marriage is a brilliant institution that all of society should celebrate.  Since a healthy marriage is a skill, he says, we should all learn some new skills to turn our marriages from good to very good. A great marriage can be learnt, he insists; just the same way as a person can learn to read a book or drive a car.

Healthy marriage creates stability and security for couples (along with plenty of fun and laughter), adds Richard. Marriage adds a stability premium to couples that is difficult to ignore. From a spiritual, physical, financial and statistical perspective, marriage provides the best possible environment for a healthy relationship to develop. In other words, it is the best choice a couple can make, he argues.

This week, thousands of local events are happening across Europe in bars, restaurants, community halls and churches, celebrating marriage and educating couples how to have a better relationship. Information about Marriage Week activities in various countries can be found on the Marriage Week International website.

Meanwhile, why not make time this week to:

1. speak out appreciation for each other;

2. recall what made you first fall in love;

3. ask, what makes your relationship special?

Till next week,


One response to “Why ‘Valentine’s Day’?”

  1. Excellent! I give you a “high five” for this article. My husband and I have been married 53 years and are still very much in love – in fact, more so now than our first years of marriage! Having recently gone through our “love letters’ written before we were married when my husband was working 11 hours from home and we could not see each other often, we have laughed together and realized how the Lord had worked in our lives to bring us to our present point in life. No marriage is ever perfect, but many marriages can be more perfect than they are. Two things, aside from our shared devotion to God, have sustained us. Early in our marriage, I one time said jokingly, “Well, then I guess we’ll just have to divorce!” It was said in fun, but my husband immediately picked up on that and told me, “never, never, never say that word (divorce) again, referring to us, even as a joke. I don’t want to hear it!” Ouch! I never did, and I think it was a very wise thing he said. In the anger of the moment, it’s too easy to say, “I want out of this marriage! I want a divorce!” The second thing is something I read in Reader’s Digest, before we were married. I have often referred to it in marriage preparation classes for others. The story – a young woman was engaged, looking forward to married life. She decided to ask her grandmother the secret of her happy marriage. The grandmother said that when she and her husband first got married and came up against issues they had never thought about before marriage which now seemed to pour cold water on their relationship, they sat down to discuss this. These were daily minor issues which by themselves seemed unimportant but put into the context of marriage, were enough to drive them apart from time to time. They decided they would make a list of ten things which bothered them the most; things they had not known about each other prior to marriage because they had, of course, not lived together. And that they would forgive each other without even bringing them up. The granddaughter smiled and said, “What a great idea! I can see how that would definitely help.” Thinking about for a while, she then asked grandma, “What were the ten things you and grandpa wrote on that list?” Grandma answered, with a twinkle in her eye, “That’s where this secret works! We never got around to making those lists, so whenever the other person did something we did not like (not put the lid back on the toothpaste, etc.,) we would just say to ourselves – he/she’s lucky; that’s one of the ten!” Great reply! And what wisdom.
    On another tract – could you please correct my email address in your list. I was actually surprised (and pleased, of course) that I could your Weekly Word today. The former email provider had informed us in November that as of the end of January, it would end. So, my new email address for Johanna Martin is: jm19746@gmail.com
    Thank you!

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