On the first Valentine’s Day we spent in Zambia, my husband bought me a necklace: a beautiful, silver ring with a pendent on it, which had a little African image inscribed. It was a remarkable romantic moment, as we were on a boat on Lake Kariba, the sun setting over sparkling waters and warm, fresh wind in our hair. I treasure that necklace to this day, though as much for the memory I associate with it than the gift itself, for all I could think when I was given a present was:
“Oh no! I haven’t got you anything!”.
I had naively assumed that (a) he’d forget, and if that were not true then (b) he’d not be so frivolous with his money. How wrong could I be?
Much of Valentine’s Day is faff and flannel. It is an excuse to have a non-uniform day at school, it is a reason to buy expensive chocolates, it forces the cultivation of deep red roses out of season… but it is a celebration of love and commitment.
In a rash moment of calculation (using all my fingers and toes) I realise that this year it is our 20th Valentine’s Day together. St Valentine appears to be one of three people, all of whom may have been executed on this day in history (although anywhere between 269 and 273 AD). For me, the story that makes most sense is of the priest who defied Emperor Claudius’ edict that young men shouldn’t marry. Valentine believed in the holy sacrament of marriage and married these people in secret…though not secret enough, given he was caught, imprisoned and then beheaded. A man who held marriage in such high regard is an apt saint to attribute to the day associated with love.
In these days when marriage is not deemed a necessity, not even for having children, it is funny to think that our society puts so much time and effort (and money!) into celebrating the martyrdom of a man who encouraged marriage. The freedom in my society and culture to choose who I’d like to spend the rest of my life with, and then to commit publicly to that love, is something I take for granted. I am very aware that there are many who do not have that privilege.
Marriage is a lifelong commitment, that outlasts all the chocolates, cards and flowers. I wonder what Valentine would make of our celebrations today?