I am taking a break from politics to write in defense of St. Valentine's Day to many a naysayer who considers it cheesy, trite, annoying, or lame. This holiday with its ideals and courtly rituals, is one of the finest traditions offered by Western culture. On Valentine's Day the observance of rites that embody classical conceptions of human love and sexuality persist despite decades of political correctness standards and the prevalence of the 20th century's notion that gender is a programmed social construct rather than an objective, functional reality which operates concurrently with our biological sex.
The Ideals of Courtly Love
Perhaps one of the chief social ills faced by post-modern people is our sterility. There is no shortage of depressed, emasculated men or disillusioned women who have been brutalized by a cultural landscape of genderlessness. We consider our way of doing things "enlightened" and declare ourselves "liberated" from oppressive, antiquated social norms, but I submit that the result is something akin to a frustrated, caged animal. Yet in stark contrast to this social landscape stands St. Valentine's Day, a beacon that shines the light of courtly love into the world for just one day.
On this day we celebrate an ideal, which in itself is a bright exception to the typical snide dismissal of the ideal and the pursuit thereof as "utopian" and childish. That ideal is man in his proper role as man and woman in her proper role as woman, according to the function inherent in their respective designs. The virtuous man respects his beloved, admires her, gives of himself to her, and humbles himself before her (that's why he's often depicted at the foot of a tower looking up at her). The virtuous woman protects her chastity by offering herself to her lover only in true love and only on a foundation of mutual commitment, hence the elaborate courtship, the wooing, the songs, the tokens of the man's affection, and the ever-present warrior imagery that implies the man is willing to lay down his life for his beloved.
Who was St. Valentine?
Valentine was the name of several Christian martyrs who died during the systematic persecutions of the Roman Empire. The symbolism is quite clear in celebrating romantic love on a martyr's feast day and proclaiming him the patron saint of love and marriage: love is a slow martyrdom. (Any couple married for a significant length of time would likely agree!) Love is about giving of oneself to another. All of the classical religions and philosophical frameworks for viewing the world and humankind's role in it seem to share in common the idea that we are to love one another and that this consists of denying ourselves like the martyrs to attain greater treasures, the treasures of fraternity, universal benevolence, good will towards all, and peace with all.
Happy Valentine's Day with much Love and Best Wishes for you who are reading this!