-Judith Greer Essex, Ph.D., Director, Expressive Arts Institute
The history of St. Valentine’s Day is a messy mix of pagan and Christian celebrations. The old pagan festival of Lupercalia (which fell on February 15th) was a precursor and celebrated Faunus, the god of agriculture with animal sacrifice and blood rituals. The Christian Saint Valentine was martyred on the 14th of February and that was thought to be the time birds started to mate, so a perfect time to celebrate romantic love. It was also associated with Cupid, the Roman god of affection, most closely involved with Valentine’s Day iconography. His mother, Venus, was the Roman goddess of love, you’ll remember. When the little archer pierced your heart with his gold-tipped arrow, you fell in love.
The tradition grew over hundreds of years. The exchange of small tokens and especially cards became part of the day. In the full-blown romantic lore of the present day, we think of Valentine’s as a day for erotic passion and pleasure between lovers, a deep celebration of intimate partnership. This version of Valentines, exclusively for romance, is what all the marketers of cards, candy and lingerie are selling.
…there are often enhanced feelings of isolation or loneliness for those without a romantic connection on Valentines Day…
We know that most of us spend a portion of our lives as singles, and there are often enhanced feelings of isolation or loneliness for those without a romantic connection on Valentines Day. We know that many marriages end and lovers part. I have friendships that have survived every romantic involvement over decades of my life. Why not celebrate that love and support? After all in the original holiday, your Valentine was simply the person you spent the day with. Yes, Valentine’s Day was for lovers, but also for friends.
I think it’s time for that older meaning to have a come-back. I see it already with variations on the theme of the day such as Galentine’s and Palentine’s. Nothing predicts good health like friendships. Did you know that? Friendships are very important to health; studies indicate having significant social relationships boosts the immune system, brain health, heart health, not to mention mental health. Even life expectancy. The root of Valentine is valem coming from Ancient Greek, and meaning “strong and healthy.” I believe we are only as healthy as our friendships and social network, so these non-romantic love connections deserve recognition and celebration. In the challenging and often tumultuous climate of todays world, the need for friendship and platonic love has never been greater.
So let’s celebrate love in all it’s forms. As the meme says “Love is love.” Love means sharing, caring, not only romance but relations of all types and stripes. Give hugs and compliments, gratitude and affection to those around you, who make your life richer, fuller, more fun and more worthwhile.