Why we celebrate
Have you ever wondered why we celebrate certain things? These events, these markers which pepper our annual calendar – they’re all important to us – people care about them, and yet is seems so often that many people have absolutely no idea where they came from. Look at Valentines Day for example. It’s on my mind because whilst out in town today I couldn’t help but notice all the love related merchandise on sale in almost every shop. It got me thinking. How many people actually know why we celebrate valentines day? And perhaps more importantly, does it matter why we celebrate it? Does it need to have some grand historical significance, or is it just the fact that there is a day set aside for being romantic that’s important?
We get the name from St Valentine. There were several martyred St valentines during the period of early christianity, none of which had anything to do with love. Historically we know very little about these people, only that they were matryred for being christians, and that one of them has February 14th as the date of his martyrdom. By the middle-ages they had all been amalgamated anyway, into one generic St Valentine. Already then we’re heading away from fact and into legend. In 1260 there was a book called “Golden Legend” compiled about the lives and acts of the saints. It was a best seller, but was largely ficticious. In that book it is said that before he was executed, St Valentine performed a miracle in the way of healing his jailers daughter. Over time this story has been added to, saying that St Valentine was actually in love with this woman and sent her the first ever Valentines card, signing it “your valentine.” A lovely story, and a lovely idea – but more than likely complete bunkum.
Over the centuries it seemed that humanity increased its need and its desire to link February 14th to romance, as during the middle ages there was a High Court of Love set up in Paris on Valentines Day, with the judges having to “audition” for jobs by reading poetry. The court then dealt with all crimes and issues regarding love. This idea of reciting poetry on valentines day seemed to stick, and before you know it people are sending poems to their loved ones left, right and centre, the most famous one historically being “Roses are red, violets are blue etc etc etc.”
Then of course from the victorian age onwards capitalism was on the rise and everyone was after money, so it became popular for shops to start selling cards and verses, and then as we roll into the 20th and 21st centuries we’ve got all manner of tat that can be bought. Now don’t get me wrong, I love valentines day, I love an excuse to be all romantic (and i’m so glad I have someone to share it with – gone are the days the only card I would get would be from my mother.) But I do feel however that Valentines Day is one of these cases where there isn’t quite enough meat on the historical bones to justify the celebration as a remembrance of past events. But then I think I’ve come to the conclusion that that doesn’t really matter. I think humanity needs these days – it’s part of how we make sense of things. We need a day to be all lovey-dovey – don’t ask us why, but we just do. Like mothers day and fathers day, I guess you could throw them in the same pot. We need a day to pay homage to the ones we love, because half of us are too busy the rest of the year to do it properly.
In conclusion then, most people probably don’t know the exact history of why we celebrate valentines day (or they might know that it’s saint valentine and that’s it,) but probably the reason for that is because the history is just so damn confusing! And does it matter that there’s a history there? Does it matter whether that old amalgamated saint sent a love letter to his beloved on the eve of his death or not? No, not really. We just love celebrating love. And that’s lovely.