From Running Nude to Flowers: The Story Behind St. Valentine’s Day

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So Happy Valentine’s Day!! And men, it’s your move today, so do it right! Buy those flowers, make that call, take her out for dinner. Dads don’t forget about your daughters. Sons don’t forget about your mother and sisters. It’s become a big deal in our culture! And it’s truly a wonderful opportunity to express love for that significant other in our life.

Now there are various theories floating out there as to how this day got going.  It could date back to an ancient Greco-Roman festival called Lupercealia that took place between February 13 and 15. It involved sacrificing a goat for fertility and a dog for purity. According the ancient historian Plutarch, they would cut the goat’s hide into strips, which were then dipped in the goat’s blood. Young men would take these blood soaked strips and run naked down the streets; bump against any women they would find, and gently slap them with these strips. It was believed this would ward off evil spirits and bring fertility. Yeah, that’s sounds real romantic.

The story goes that the church, like it did with Christmas and Easter, found a way to take over this pagan holiday with all of it’s idolatry and immorality and Christianize it. Enter a parish priest by the name of Valentine serving in Rome in the third century. He was moved to a bit of righteous rebellion when Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men who were serving as Roman soldiers. The theory was single young men made far better soldiers than married ones because they were more willing to exercise military bravado and risk their lives for the cause of Rome. Married guys would think twice before risking an arrow for the Empire. Valentine was not impressed.

Realizing the injustice of the decree, Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. This was around the year 270.  The church then made Valentine into an official saint picking February 14th to be the day we would remember him, successfully overtaking this Gteco-Roman fertility festival. This allowed the church to promote the biblical values of romance and marriage over against the vulgar fertility rites of pagan Rome that were so demeaning to women. To this day Valentine is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Missouri Synod Lutheran Churches among others.

I think it’s good to remember a guy who promoted romance and valued marriage and lost his life for those values. And as crass and commercial as sending all those flowers, candy and gifts can become, as expensive as going out for a romantic dinner on Valentine’s day can be, I for one am thankful for the opportunity to tangibly express in an illogical lavish way, a little love for my wife and a few other women in my family, letting them know that they mean the world to me.

And I think one of the father’s of the Christian faith, the Apostle Paul would agree. He wrote that the greatest value that we could pursue is love and encouraged us to “follow in the way of love.” In a small way, Valentines Day is just one way of doing that. In a small way, Valentines Day is one way that I can allow love to flow through my life.

And while I do know a guy or two who might disagree with me, I for one am glad we don’t have a mob of naked young men running down Franklin Avenue bumping into women and splashing them with goat’s blood.

So it’s still not too late … send those flowers, buy that candy, make that call and sincerely express your deep heartfelt love to someone close to you.

This blog was originally published in the February 14, 2014 edition of Fort McMurray Today.

Man holding roses

Man holding roses

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