Dr. Omoniyi Ibietan

Saint Valentine’s Day, or Cupid’s Day, or Lovers’ Day, has its mysteries and mythologies but it seems settled that it started in Rome, originally with the Feast of Lupercalia, held February 13-15.

In a narrative of historicity and myths of Valentine’s Day by Firstpost.com, all kinds of gods have been associated with love. They include Cupid, the Roman god of Love; Eros, the Greek god of Love; and Amor, the god of Love as defined in Latin poetry. However, Cupid’s depiction as a child in bow and arrow, has come to be an associative symbol of Val’s Day more than any of the other gods.

By Firstpost.com’s reckoning, a goat and a dog were usually offered for propitiation by men on the Feast of Lupercalia, and “women were whipped with the hides of the sacrificed animal” in the belief that it will make them fertile. The Feast was also associated with ‘matchmaking lottery’ in which men will pick from a jar, a name of a woman whom he would coupled for the period, and possibly longer.

The Feast of Valentine seemed to have got its name in the 3rd Century when St. Valentine was behead on the orders of Emperor Claudius II, for facilitating the marriage of Christian couples (it is unclear if the Christian couples referred to were those who got coupled during the Feast of Lupercalia). St. Valentine was executed on February 14. However, while St. Valentine was in prison, prior to the execution, he still showed love and care to the emperor (his persecutor’s) blind daughter, and he sent her a card which stated: ‘FROM YOUR VALENTINE’.

In the 5th Century, Pope Gelasius stripped the Feast of Lupercalia of its rituals and paganism, and combined the celebration of the Feast with St. Valentine’s Day celebration. Thenceforth, the celebration became more romantic and became an increasingly global festival of love. The phenomenon gained traction as writers, especially poets including Shakespeare and Chaucer, began to write about it in the context of love, romance and affectionateness.

As Premium Times has interrogated and extrapolated, the season now comes with a huge ‘nostalgia and romance’, featuring almost a pandemic of love and gifting. So, in the hoopla and frenzy is to be identified the underlying spirit of capitalism and the attendant consumerist culture that Val’s Day evokes – the shopping, gifts, dining and wining, travels, hedonism and interestingly the eroticism that throws up a paradox of meaning exchange.

Alarmed by the countercultural realities of St. Valentine’s Day, my church parish, a provincial headquarters of The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), yesterday, organised a programme for teens to re-direct the narrative of Val’s Day to the Love of Christ that we all should share with humanity rather than the sensual, romanticism and the indulgences that are neither in congruence with the deeds of St. Valentine the priest, nor the spirit of commandments in the Scriptures.

Matter-of-factly, the symbolism of Val’s Day dots every landscape, because it is of global character and territoriality, as it cuts across cultures, faiths, and religion. Even when many faith-based organisations do not approve of the worldly celebrations attending the Day, Val’s Day or Lovers’ Day has become an unvarnished feature of the human experience.

Today, it is the biggest consumer holiday after Christmas, and it is particularly celebrated in United States, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, France, Australia, Denmark and Italy. The impact on the economy is astonishing. According to Globaledge, in 2019, more than $20.7 billion was spent on St. Valentine’s Day, and in 2020, even in the vortex of a global pandemic, the Day expectedly added $27.4 billion to economies. Globaledge equally reported that on the average, an American is expected to spend $162 dollars on St. Valentine’s Day. And the Indian Express asserts that, in some countries, the anniversary is a weeklong celebration that commences on 7th February and climax on the real day, February 14.

So, as you commemorate the St. Valentine’s Day this year, may the love of God continue to be a mark of your life, may the death of St. Valentine make real meaning, may those who have found love grow stronger in it, may those in search of love find befitting love, may those whose love got ruptured get restoration or a find a brand new love, and may those whose real love got lost reclaim them. After all, as Mokwugo Okoye perceptively reasoned in THE BEARD OF PROMETHEUS, those who have loved before and failed are more likely to love again than those who never loved.