Thursday, February 4, 2010

V-Day: A Feast for All Kinds of Lovers...

Valentine’s Day planning is already well underway at my daughters’ school (complete with shoe boxes to collect cards in), and so I figured it’s probably on others’ minds as well; hearts and candy have already become ubiquitous…V-Day provokes very strong reactions in many people…I know a lot of people who really despise it. I don’t always know their personal reasons, but I can think of some: a) they were burned by a former lover and it brings back bad memories; b) they are opposed to sentimentality and clichéd greeting cards; c) they are allergic to chocolate and don’t like roses d) they are bitter at the restaurant industry’s capitalizing (so soon after New Year’s) on a golden opportunity to guilt people into spending money on below-average food and service or e) they just hate the color red. This being said, I have always really enjoyed Valentine’s Day—despite the fact that until the year I met my husband (in my late 20’s) I had never really been dating anyone for Valentine’s Day. For me, Valentine’s Day was a celebration of love of all kinds—mostly the love my parents had for me, accompanied by cute cards and chocolate. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the dark underbelly of Valentine’s Day, and the way our images of love can sometimes put a stranglehold on true love. I became aware that many couples break up before Valentine’s Day; Valentine’s Day seems to place such a set of romantic expectations on people that if they don’t feel up to the appropriate level of enthusiasm, someone often decides it’s time to throw in the towel. There is something perverse in this to my mind---not that all couples should be together—but I have certainly seen cases where an artificial (and Hollywood-created) myth of the Perfect Relationship threatens to nip the bud of what could be the real thing.

Valentine’s Day (in addition to Cyril and Methodius) is, of course, the feast day of St. Valentine—a 3rd century priest who was martyred during the persecutions of Emperor Claudius the Goth. His connection to a romantic love-fest is not immediately obvious. My mother mentions in A Continual Feast that the most likely reason for the association of Valentine’s Day with lovers is that birds were believed to mate on February 14th, and so lovers followed suit, asking the martyr to bless them in their choice of mate. Valentine’s Day seems like a natural day to extend and expand our celebration of love: first, by recognizing love in all its depth and forms; including corny love poetry, but not limiting it to that. It also makes sense to recognize (as medieval lovers did) our need for assistance in choosing our mates, and finding our vocations. Valentine’s Day, a celebration of lovers on the feast day of a priest and martyr, is a perfect moment to reflect on vocations in general, and celebrate not just earthly love, but the divine source of that earthly love. It’s an opportunity to remind ourselves, and our families, that our love for even those nearest to us is rooted in a love beyond ourselves, a love which comes to us, first and foremost, as a gift.

On a practical level, we may want to integrate this awareness of our vocation as a gift into our celebration of the day. Telling stories of how you met your spouse, and also recalling how other important people have entered our lives as gifts might be one great way: the birth of children is always a great event that we recognize as a gift (particularly evident to me right now since my baby son was born just a month ago!). I know my children love hearing stories about themselves, and when they were born. Why not retell those events, recognizing the graciousness of their arrival in our lives? We might also want to read some Lives of the Saints that feature intense or dramatic vocations: both to the married life and to the priesthood. Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, and Saint Francis of Assisi are a couple of examples that might be worth considering, as is the amazing life of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. During this Year of the Priest, too, it would be beautiful to celebrate all vocations on Valentine's Day…Why not invite a priest for dinner? (For one thing, they’re less likely to have other plans!)


  1. What an inspirational post - a feast to read for someone like me who used to just "turn away" from Valentine's Day. Also Valentine is the patron saint against epilepsy - we wrote an article on the "sacred disease" and its patron saint in "Epilepsy and Behavior" (available online).

  2. Yes, a very thought-provoking post! And I love that image of St. Valentine--great!