Is it the only day to say, I love you?

Published on February 12, 2009

By Thangkhochon Haokip 

Of the varying opinions as to the origin of Valentine’s Day, the widely accepted one is that associate with Rome during the third century. To be precise, a priest named Valentinus was beheaded by Emperor Claudius, the cruel on February 14, 269 AD. St. Valentinus performed secret weddings after Claudius banned marriage to prevent soldiers from deserting his army. The good saint refused to deny Christ and so was thrown into prison, where he healed the jailer’s blind daughter. He fell in love with her and left a note in the cracks of his cell the night before his execution, “From Your Valentine.”

In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius set aside February 14 to honor St. Valentine. Gradually, the day became the date for exchanging love messages and St. Valentine became the patron saint of lovers. The date is marked by sending poems and simple gifts such as flowers. There was often a social gathering or a ball. It is interesting to know that in the United States, Miss Esther Howland is given credit for sending the first Valentine cards. Commercial Valentines were introduced in the 1800s and now the date is very commercialized the world over. The town of Loveland, Colorado, for instance, does a large post office business around February 14.

The spirit of good continues as Valentines are sent out with sentimental verses and children exchange Valentine cards at school. Valentine’s Day is celebrated throughout the world with zeal and enthusiasm. This auspicious day has interesting legends associated for its celebration as well. It has been celebrated for a long time but the ways of celebration has changed. There are lots of information about the number of cards, flowers and gifts being exchanged on this special day.

It would be great fun to know that as per Hallmark research, Valentine’s Day is observed as the second most popular greeting-card-giving occasion. It is also found that the number of Valentine’s Day cards exchanged annually is around 180 million. Each year, over 1 billion Valentine’s cards are sent in US alone. It is also equally interesting to know the various traditions associated with Valentine’s Day.  In Wales, wooden love spoons were curved and given as gifts on February 14. Hearts, keys, spoons and keyholes were favorite decorations on the spoons. The decoration meant, “You unlock my heart!”

In middle ages, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their Valentine would be. They would wear these names on their sleeves for one week. To wear your heart on your sleeve now means that it is easy for other people to know how you are feeling. In some countries, a young woman may receive a gift of clothing from a young man. If she keeps the gift, it means she will marry him. Valentine’s Day is also associated with the Roman festival of “Lupercalia-The Wolf” which was celebrated on February 15 – where young men held a lottery to decide which girl would be theirs. In the medieval times, girls used to eat unusual foods on Valentine’s Day. It was believed that by doing so they would dream of their future husband.

During middle ages, it was yet a common belief that the first unmarried person of the opposite sex a person meets on the morning of Valentine’s Day would become his/her spouse.  Proposing of a girl for a hand in marriage is as old as the human history. Various anthropological researches revealed the institutionalized forms of courtship, marriage and thus family. Even in primitive times, the whole practice of choosing a mate happened. The case studies of numerous tribal societies by sociologist and anthropologists are a case in point. Till this day, many tribal societies around the world follow the tradition. The way of choosing bride differs with culture. In this regard, what is accepted the best by their custom may be ridiculous to others.  

The Thadou-Kukis of Northeast India and Myanmar held a belief where men could know their future partners beforehand. This was done by drinking of egg mixed with salt (hence salty). When he sleeps, he is bound to be thirsty. The woman who brings him a cup of water, in his dream, to quench his thirst would become his wife. With the coming of Christian faith and modernization of society, people no longer believe. What was once a common belief is now only a myth.  

Love is an emotion that each one of us experience in our lives. It is such a great feeling that it encourages many to express it in words. Robert Frost once remarked, “Love: The irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.” The quotation shows the power of love between opposite sexes (we may as well include the same sex now). That irresistible desire has found a special day where it can be expressed through celebrating in a particular day. The modern celebration of Valentine’s Day that began in France and England has over the years spread the world over. Valentine’s Day as a day of celebrating love has seen opposition from some sections of society.

In Manipur, an underground outfit and few civil societies ban the occasion formally. It has been a decade since restaurants, hotels, parks, etc. are closed or checked for the youths celebrating in allegedly ‘unacceptable way’.  More recently, the Sri Ram Sene, an offshoot of Shiv Sena attacked a pub and molested the girls partying in Mangalore. The party took the stringent action opposing the pub culture for its western origin by defending the traditional “Indian/Hindu culture.” The moral policing of the Sene received nation-wide condemnation.

Worse, the saffron party warned of its disciples prowling out on Valentine’s Day at parks and hotels. The outfit threatened of marrying off young couples found behaving in “immoral way” or force tying of  ‘rakhi’ by the woman to the man that symbolize the close blood relationship of a sibling. Quite the contrary, members of voluntary organization ‘Real Cause’ distributed red roses at India Gate in New Delhi three days ahead of the Valentine’s Day as a mark of protest against moral policing by the Hindutva fringe elements. In the name of protecting one’s culture, can we discard all the western-origin cultures?

Mahatma Gandhi might have opposed the British-made goods as a weapon to fight against the colonial rule but did he oppose the moral and liberal values he learned from the West?  In the era of globalization and liberalization, can one cocoon himself into a tight system and be content? Whether to accept or oppose Western culture is not the intention of this article though. My sociological instinct deprives me of the value judgments. 

Valentine’s Day is celebrated as the day of love and romance. It is time to break your speechlessness and tell your love ones that you love them. Pause. Your partner or to-be partner knows fully well that you give something to him/her. S/he expects something from you on the day. What if you express your love or gift something when s/he expects the least?

“There is nothing wrong, of course, with delighting in love and honoring friendship and stopping in the bleak mid winter to tickle the people we love. But it is also a good sign of psychosocial health if the day just saunters by and winks, and you feel no need to pay attention. The minute it feels like a duty, it has lost its purpose,” opines the Time. “Love sought is good,” Shakespeare observed, “but given unsought is better.” Happy Valentine’s Day! 

The writer is a post-graduate student of Sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India.