Unlike Halloween, Valentine’s Day evokes few seismic debates in the Christian world. I have yet to hear of a church split over the holiday. Yes, there will be plenty of cheesy family-values love songs floating around (we Evangelicals have more cheese than the French sometimes). We may be told in a sermon that husbands should be dutiful in loving their wives on Valentine’s, or – if you’re a single female – about letting Jesus be your boyfriend.
Husbands should and no, He’s not.
The cynics will decry it all as too commercial. Yet, they too shall secretly hope that fine chocolate will find its way to them on the big day. (I accept anything dark from Hotel Chocolate should you be so inclined.) Yet few people – Christian or secular – give any attention to the holiday’s history.
The roots of the holiday are mixed because there seems to be two different pastors in the early church named Valentine – one in the third century, one in the fifth. What may seem ironic to some, is that these men who inspired THE romance holiday were both celibate - neither dating nor married. One was killed by the pagan government for secretly marrying young couples (the emperor had made it illegal for young men who were still soldiers to marry). The other Valentine was an evangelist who had seen a jailer and his family convert from paganism. Because the government was hostile to Christianity, he was arrested, tortured and killed on February 14th. But before was taken, he sent a note to someone who had become a close friend of his – the jailer’s daughter. The note was signed ‘Your Valentine’.
For hundreds of years Christians have celebrated Valentine’s Day by giving notes and small gifts to loved ones. This included - but was not limited to – romantic interests. The oldest valentine that we still have is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.
The fact that we have a day to celebrate romantic love is a good thing. God created eros, and - though it is a force that can often be difficult to tame - it is good nonetheless. But sadly, from the late 19th century onward, friends no longer exchanged valentines. It is lamentable because we have no other major holiday to celebrate friendship. And we DO need a real, Christian holiday for this. Unfortunately, the Friendzone is chocolate free nowadays.
This Valentine’s Day I will be joyfully taking my beautiful wife out on a date, giving her chocolate (of which I will eat at least half) and we may finish off a bottle of red. But in order to celebrate the day to its fullness, I am also sending affection to my closest friends – both male and female. (In reciprocity, I’ll accept high-quality chocolate from any dude. If it’s a good bottle of single malt, he’ll even get a hug.)