Michelle Martin

Valentine’s Day

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

No one celebrates Valentine’s Day much as a religious holiday anymore.

Most of the time, no one calls it St. Valentine’s Day at all.

Maybe that’s for the best. Maybe we don’t need to associate a day of chocolates, flowers and red paper hearts with a third-century Roman martyr who, according to legend if not fact, secretly married couples before the men were sent to war.

Many people now see Valentine’s Day as a kind of Hallmark holiday: It’s an opportunity for greeting card companies to make lots of sales (the card aisle at my local Target had valentine cards for husbands and wives, romantic partners, parents, children, grandparents and friends) and for retailers to have something to put on display in the months between Christmas and Easter.

At the Jewel closest to me, Christmas merchandise had been consolidated to less than half an aisle on Dec. 24, replaced already by valentines items. Just in case anyone prefers their chocolate in heart-shaped boxes instead of molded into Santa shapes.

They don’t mention the tale of St. Valentine restoring sight to the blind daughter of the Roman judge who was holding him prisoner, leading the judge to convert to Christianity and release Valentine and all the other Christians he was keeping captive.

Children celebrate Valentine’s Day in school, often by decorating boxes or bags to collect Valentine cards from their classmates. Apparently, once upon a time, students could gauge their popularity by how many valentines they received.

That custom had changed by the time I was in elementary school, when the rule was that if you were going to bring valentines, you had to bring one for each person in the class. That just meant that if you liked someone, you made a point of giving them the biggest one.

Now that’s out, too. My kids’ teachers have always instructed that each child should bring enough for each classmate to get one, and only to sign them but not address them to anyone, the better to walk down the line of bags and drop one card in each.

I’m not sure what that accomplishes, besides giving primary-grade students practice writing their names a couple of dozen times and giving everyone an idea of who likes Spider-Man and who’s a Moana fan.

Of course, there are actually several Roman martyrs named Valentine (“Valentinus,” meaning “strong” or “powerful,” was apparently a popular name; one pope, who was in office briefly in 827, was also named Valentine), and stories about the one celebrated on Feb. 14 might be a conflation of the biographies of two of them, both beheaded on the outskirts of Rome.

In the end, though, the point of Valentine’s Day is love. Maybe the card companies have it right: There’s all kinds of love in the world, and we are called to love all of our neighbors. We can even do that with candy and flowers and, yes, red paper hearts.


  • family life