Valentine’s Day has become synonymous with a romantic partner, thanks to consistent advertising that reinforces this idea. But the 14th day of February actually commemorates the passing of St. Valentine — a 3rd-century Roman clergyman.
The Roman empire was a formidable force at its peak. Its large army had conquered all of Europe, and parts of Asia and Africa too. The life of the ordinary soldier, meanwhile, was difficult; he would spend extended periods away from home and family. And these were considered virtues that made them weak and less wont to continue in the empire’s expansion efforts. This was a matter of concern for the ruler.
Emperor Claudius II felt that single men made better soldiers than those with families. Therefore, he outlawed marriage for young army recruits. But St. Valentine disagreed with the unjust decree. He defied Emperor Claudius II and continued to solemnise marriages for young lovers secretly.
Unfortunately, when Valentine’s deeds were discovered, the emperor promptly ordered his execution. The fateful day was the 14th of February. This was how a sombre event became an epitome of love and it has since immortalised the well meaning St. Valentine.
Keeping the tradition going strong
The question perhaps crosses one’s mind as to how a 3rd century event is still going strong in the 21st century. Why are we, even after 1800 years, still celebrating this day with so much zest?
Cheesy as it may sound, the answer is ‘love’. On a basic level, humans are social beings and societies cannot exist without love and compassion. Consequently, this celebration of love is the reason why the occasion is still observed. Besides, it is all the more relevant in a world gripped by hatred and divisiveness.
Examining the phenomenon called love
Love is subjective in my opinion. It certainly goes beyond outward appearances, twinkle-eyed couples, daydreams and romantic scenery. There are definitely elements of responsibility, understanding, compromise and consistency that are as much a part of love.
Separately, an equation of love can also arise across multiple human relations or connections. Parents’ sacrifices for their children demonstrate love. It can be shared among cultures for intellectual development and even with other species to foster a stronger sense of harmonious existence with fellow beings. Case in point being relationships between humans and their pets.
While acts of service constitute love, there are also actions that are accepted forms of expressing affection for another individual or being. From a romantic relationship standpoint, certain gestures foster a sense of closeness or intimacy. The simple act of holding hands, for example, signals love. In recent times, it is also common for individuals to write a brief paragraph or two on social media to express their fondness for their significant other.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, are also acts called ‘pubic displays of affection’. While some may be proponents of this ‘love language,’ it must be highlighted that certain boundaries must be respected. Far too often, such gestures amount to vulgarity.
There is also a material angle to love. For young adults in love, there is tendency to splurge on gifts, dining out, or holidaying in exotic places. It is not as if to say these are unnecessary aspects, but I feel the superficial aspects of Valentine’s Day often overlook the more sombre countenance of the occasion.
Valentine’s Day and India’s moral policing
The 14th of February has seen its fair share of trouble in India. It has spelt trouble for numerous adults who unintentionally invited the ire of activists who are against “all things western”. Political outfits–such as the Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena–have time and again taken it upon themselves to engage in violent acts in an attempt to discourage couples from observing Valentine’s Day.
In fact, upon closer observation, these so-called moral police brigades are no more than petty criminals. They have received the tacit approval of ‘law makers’ to carry out deplorable offences against young people. Some of these goons have even gone to the extent of meting out public thrashings and head tonsuring.
It must be understood that Valentine’s Day is as much a celebration of love between parent and child as it is between husband and wife or grandparent and grandchild. The idea of earmarking a special day is to accord a sense of importance to the occasion. More importantly, the core idea is to spread love and warmth in a world where there is so much in disarray. And while we revel in the festivities, let us also take a moment to whisper a prayer for St. Valentine.