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Learning to Love: What Cards and Flowers Won’t Tell You About Valentine’s Day

By: john weirick

Chances are you’ve got plans for Valentine’s Day. If there’s someone you care about, you might express it through a gift or time together. Or, if you’re like I was during my bachelor years, you’ll get together with other single friends because you don’t have a date.

Maybe your plans and feelings about Valentine’s Day aren’t clear, like its clouded, unsettling history.

A Lively History

Valentine’s Day is steeped in myths and co-opted for our personal preferences in modern life.
A Roman winter festival influenced what we now know as Christmas. Harvest time pagan rituals mixed with Christian traditions and evolved into what we know as Halloween. Valentine’s Day has similar ancient reference points.
Some believe Valentine’s Day found its place by corresponding to the timing of a pagan Roman festival, Lupercalia, which marked the approach of spring and sought fertility in a new season.
The Romans wanted to appease the wolf god of fertility so their flocks would be protected and their society flourishing (via: William Smith). The festival was observed Feb. 13 to Feb. 15 including ceremonial sacrifices of goats and dogs, participants chasing each other around in goatskins (which men also used to hit women), and lots of alcohol. Legend holds they were also paired off by a matchmaking lottery during the festivities, for, shall we say, practical application of their enthusiasm over fertility.

Holiday Takeover

Centuries later, the Church adapted the festival’s timing for their own purposes.
Several Roman Christians martyred between the third and fifth centuries could have been the real St. Valentine (via: Catholic Online). The most prominent of them was a priest, who was killed by the Roman Emperor Claudius II for performing marriages for soldiers against the emperor’s will. This St. Valentine is credited with the tradition of encouraging love and writing “valentines,” which the holiday exhibits today—perhaps the sole remaining unchanged practice.
It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the holiday became known as an overt celebration of romance, thanks to storytellers like Shakespeare and Chaucer. Only a few hundred years ago did Valentine’s Day become a holiday businesses use to capitalize on public sentiments by selling greeting cards, endless supplies of candy, gifts, and flowers. Some estimates say each person who celebrates Valentine’s Day will spend an average of $140. Recent years place predications of total spending around $19 billion nationwide (via: National Retail Federation). The holiday is still going strong.

The Lessons of Valentine’s Day

With all the stories, traditions, and enduring popularity of Valentine’s Day, what can we find beyond gifts and greeting cards?

1. Anything can be redeemed.

One glance at all the converging stories behind Valentine’s Day might make you wonder how something so convoluted could become such a common celebration around the world today. Yet when we get a sense of the character of God, it’s not unrealistic to believe that anything can be redeemed.
No matter what happened in the past, Valentine’s Day is a chance to reaffirm our affection for people we care about. Like God redeems us and uses our past to point us to a better future (Titus 2:14), Valentine’s Day can be a time when separated spouses reunite, families deepen their connection, and friends celebrate the importance of those who’ve made a difference in their lives.

2. Love—of all kinds—deserves attention.

Valentine’s Day’s focus on romantic love can be an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the other kinds of love, too. Why limit a day about love to only romantic relationships when family affection, friendship, and unconditional love are also important parts of our lives?
There’s nothing like the love of a close brother or sister when you’re facing the harshest challenges (Proverbs 17:17). “Above all, love each other deeply,” includes things like hosting a dinner party or using what you have to express your care for the people in your life (1 Peter 4:8-10).

Love costs nothing but requires everything.

3. Love is a risk.

On a small scale, you’re willing to part with a few dollars in exchange for flowers and chocolate you believe are worth giving to someone you care about. On a large scale, St. Valentine believed in marriage—enough to die because he helped people get married. The strongest expression of love incorporates sacrifice (John 15:13).
Love costs nothing but requires everything. It can’t be bought, but it can be given—and that makes a bold statement about how highly you value someone. Jesus demonstrated how valuable He considered us when He gave His life. With His resurrection, we see He’s not done with us; He is making all things new (Revelation 21:3-5).

No matter how you celebrate Valentine’s Day, the most beautiful and profound expressions whittle down to the enduring message of God Himself: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

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