Will you be my Valentine?

Ratna Mutum *

It is that time of the year once again when lovelorn young boys and girls move with mushy looks in their eyes oblivious to the hustle and bustle of the daily grind. No, there are more important agenda on their minds than classes and tests and tutorials. It is Valentine's Day! It is the day when the whole world joins in to celebrate love which is not 'Eros' but 'Agape'.

But what is it about Valentine's Day that has become so deeply ingrained in the mindset of the young, sans discrimination of religion or faith? It is LOVE! I only wish this feeling of love will transcend all barriers in the society. But, what do we know of Valentine's Day ? There are so many stories about the origin of Valentine's Day. It is really difficult to trace its origin as the veil of time has slowly descended over, creating many variations. It is only through legends that this day of love has been kept alive. The modern St. Valentine's Day celebrations are said to have been derived from both ancient Christian and Roman tradition. According to the tradition, in 496 AD, Pope Gelasius proclaimed February 14 to be the feast day in honour of Saint Valentine, a Roman martyr who lived in the 3rd century. It is this St. Valentine that modern Valentine's Day honours. Most scholars believe that this St. Valentine was a priest who lived around 270 AD in Rome and attracted the disfavour of Roman emperor Claudius II.

During this period, the golden era of the Roman Empire had almost come to an end. Weak administration was the cause. The Roman Empire faced crises from all sides, from the Gauls, Slavs, Huns, Turks and Mongolians, from Northern Europe and Asia. The empire had grown too large to be shielded from external aggression and internal chaos. To protect the weakening empire, capable men were required to be recruited as soldiers and officers to protect the nation from any takeover. Claudius II felt that married men were more emotionally attached to their families, and thus, would not make good soldiers. He believed that marriage weakened men. So he issued an edict forbidding marriage of soldiers. The ban on marriage was a great shock for the Romans. But they dared not voice their protest against the mighty emperor. The kindly bishop Valentine realized the injustice of the decree. He saw the trauma of young lovers who gave up all hopes of being united in marriage. He planned to counter the monarch's orders in secrecy. Whenever lovers thought of marrying, they went to Valentine who met them afterwards in a secret place, and joined them in the sacrament of matrimony. And thus he secretly performed many marriages for young lovers. But very soon Claudius II came to know of this "friend of lovers". He was arrested and sent to prison.

While awaiting his sentence in prison, Valentine was approached by his jailor, Asterius. Asterius had come to know of the saintly ability of Valentine to heal people. He had a blind daughter and he wanted Valentine to restore the sight of his blind daughter. Valentine fell in love with the daughter of his jailer during his imprisonment. A deep friendship developed between Valentine and Asterius' daughter. It grieved the young girl to hear of Valentine's imminent death.

When Claudius II met Valentine, he was said to have been impressed by the dignity and conviction of the latter. Valentine, however, refused to agree with the emperor regarding the ban on marriage. The emperor tried to convert Valentine to the Roman gods but Valentine refused to recognize Roman Gods and even attempted to convert the emperor, knowing the consequences fully. This angered Claudius II to no extent and ordered Valentine to be executed. He was to be martyred for refusing to renounce his religion. Just before his execution, Valentine asked for a pen and paper from his jailor, and wrote a farewell message to Asterius' daughter. The message was, "From Your Valentine," the phrase has remained alive till today.

Valentine is believed to have been executed on February 14, 270 AD. Thus 14th February became a day for all lovers and Valentine became its Patron Saint. It began to be annually observed by young Romans who offered handwritten greetings of affection, known as Valentines, to the women they admired. With the coming of Christianity, the day came to be known as St. Valentine's Day.

St.Valentine's Day became associated with love only during the 14th century. The medieval French and English people believed that birds mated on February 14. Hence images of birds were used as the symbol of lovers in poems dedicated to the day. By the 18th century, exchange of gifts and hand-made cards on Valentine's Day had become common in England. Hand-made valentine cards made of lace, ribbons, and featuring cupids and hearts began to be created on this day and handed over to the man or woman one loved. This tradition eventually spread to the American colonies. It was not until the 1840s that Valentine's Day greeting cards began to be commercially produced in the U.S. The first American Valentine's Day greeting cards were created by Esther A. Howlanda Mount Holyoke, a graduate and native of Worcester. Mass. Howland, known as the Mother of the Valentine, made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colourful pictures known as "scrap". It was when Howland began Valentine's cards in a large scale that the tradition really caught on in the United States.

One of the earliest valentines was sent in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife during his imprisonment in the Tower of London. The card is now preserved in the British Museum. There may be doubts regarding the actual identity of Valentine, but we know that Valentine's Day is a celebration of love. Isn't this a wonderful way to heal the world ? So, reach out and touch somebody's heart. Say 'Will you be my Valentine?' Happy Valentine's Day to all, both young and the young at heart!

Valentine's Day is a day of love
Where love is as bright as the sun.
We share kisses, and even a hug
With people we call our loved ones.
Unrequited love is oh! so harsh.
When the one you love doesn't love you
You feel you're left standing in the dark
Wishing this reality were untrue.
Well, that's why Valentine's Day is so great
It encourages you to show you care.
It makes you just wanna say
I love you and will always be there.
I once loved someone in this way
And I was encouraged on Valentine's.
I went up to him, just to say
I would like you to be mine.

-by Candice

* Ratna Mutum wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
This article was posted on February 13, 2011.

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