Why do we celebrate St. Valentine's Day? In Mexico it is the Day of Friendship and Love. What did St. Valentine do? When did he live?
-- Matias V. Garcia, the net
I'm tempted to say we're shamed into buying Valentines every year by the strong-arm tactics of the cartel of greeting card, flower, teddy bear, and candy moguls. Mrs. See knows she's got us by the maple walnuts.
Valentine's story is a mix of fact and Church lore, a little hard to sort out. But most histories say Valentine's Day began as a mid-February pagan ritual, Lupercalia, the start of the official courting season in Rome. Girls' names were put in a hat, boys drew out a name, and that was your girlfriend for the coming year. Lupercalia was also a red-hot street party with lots of drinking and debauchery. The Church was appalled, of course, and moved to encourage saints as love objects. In the late Fifth Century, the Church banned Lupercalia, substituted saints' names for women's names in the lottery, and opened the lottery to men and women. The feast day for St. Valentine, the saint of lovers, was February 14, so he became the unofficial patron of the holy fiesta.
He was a good choice because according to Church lore, 200 years earlier, as a bishop, Valentine had defied Emperor Claudius II's ban on marriage (married men make lousy soldiers, Claud declared). Valentine performed secret weddings, for which he eventually lost his head. The Church's Lupercalia substitute wasn't a big hit, since no one wanted to date a saint, and the day retained an unofficial air of romance. Mid-February love notes to your secular sweetie were very popular. The first "Valentine" card dates from the 1400s, by which time the saint lottery had passed into history. In the Church calendar, February 14 was Valentine's feast day until 1969, when he was removed by the Second Vatican Council in a general feast-day housecleaning. (St. Cyril took his place.) Anyway, in this modern day Valentine had been pretty much just the patron saint of Frederick's of Hollywood and unseemly behavior.