Groundhog Day has its groundhog, Thanksgiving has its turkeys, and Valentine’s Day has its Valentinus (or Valentine). It was on this day in the year 270 that
…according to tradition, Valentine, a priest in Rome during the reign of Claudius II, is beheaded along the Flaminian Way. One explanation for Valentine’s subsequent relationship to the romantic holiday is this: Claudius, seeking to more easily recruit soldiers, removed family ties by forbidding marriage. Valentine ignored the order and performed secret marriages—an act that led to his arrest and execution. (See Christianity Today)
The romantic associations may have even come later:
The first recorded association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love is in Parlement of Foules (1382) by Geoffrey Chaucer (See Wikipedia):
For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
Translation: For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate.
It’s not clear who is responsible, but some of the ideas surrounding Valentine’s Day are a tad bit odd. Take Cupid, the baby-faced angel who gleefully shoots arrows into people to make them “chese their makes” and fall in love. I don’t know about you, but getting shot at doesn’t seem particularly romantic to me, not even on “seynt Volantynys day.” And when it’s a baby doing the shooting, it starts to get a little scary. Kind of like Rambo meets Sleepless in Seattle.
Love, of course, is universal no matter the day of the year. We sing about it (Love Potion #9), we reminisce about it (1967’s Summer of Love), we watch TV about it (Love Boat), we play tennis with it (“love” signifying a score of zero.)
At the web site of the Institute of Human Thermodynamics, you can out-Letterman Letterman with the “Top 150 Definitions of Love.” Love is the perfect union of two souls, according to one meaning, and a neurological bath of pleasure chemicals according to another. Someone else suggests the definition of warm fuzzies while another person prefers to describe love as insanity.
I suppose for some people love could be the union of warm, insane chemicals.
I like the way the Bible describes love. Love led Jacob to slave away for his father-in-law Laban for seven years:
So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
In the New Testament, Jesus referred to ultimate love as self-sacrifice for others, alluding to his impending death:
Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
(Gospel of John 15:13)
In another place, Paul—one of the earliest “Jews for Jesus”—picked up this same idea:
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Messiah died for us. (Letter to the Romans 5:7-8)
But maybe the best known biblical passage on love comes again from Paul, and it has become a classic:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
(from First Letter to the Corinthians chapter 13)
If you are getting ready to “chese your make,” that’s as good a place as any to start in figuring out what is this thing called love.