Valentine’s Day is next week, Feb. 14. Have you ever wondered how this romantic holiday originated? According to my research, Feb. 14 may have become associated with romantic love through English author and poet Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century.

The day’s association with romance may also be linked to the tradition of courtly love in 15th century France. “Courtly love” referred to a “High Court of Love” which was established in Paris in 1400. The court was held every Feb. 14 and dealt with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women. The day is most likely named after St. Valentine of Rome, who was martyred, supposedly on Feb. 14, 269 A.D., though some believe the name is derived from St. Valentine of Terni, who was a bishop around 97 A.D.

According to legend, Roman Emperor Claudius II ordered that all young men remain single. The emperor supposedly did this to grow his army, believing that married men did not make for good soldiers. The priest Valentine of Rome, however, secretly performed marriage ceremonies for young men. When Claudius found out about this, he had Valentine arrested and thrown in jail. On the evening before Valentine was to be executed, he wrote the first “valentine” himself, addressed to the jailer’s daughter whom he had befriended and miraculously healed of her blindness.

Some believe the day was created by the early Christian Church in an effort to ‘Christianize’ celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival which originated in ancient Rome. During that annual fertility festival, which was celebrated in mid-February, young boys would gently “slap” girls with strips of goat hide dipped in sacrificial goats’ blood. The slapped girls were believed to be made more fertile during the coming year. Those girls could then be “claimed” for a year by the boys who slapped them.

The sending of valentines became fashionable in 19th century Great Britain. The first valentine card sent through the mail was delivered in 1806. By the 1840s the tradition of sending valentines had come to America. In 1847 Esther Howland developed a successful business in her Worcester, Mass., home with handmade cards based on British models.

The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion valentines are sent each year worldwide, making the day the second-largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas. The association estimates that women purchase 85 percent of all valentines.

Some would argue that Valentine’s Day is more about romance than about love. If that is so, we might consider the difference between the two. Love between a man and a woman should include romance. Yet true love goes much farther than romance. In 1st Corinthians 13, God offers us a description of perfect love: “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.”

Love is more than a romantic or warm feeling. Love is different than sex, which many refer to as “making love.” Love is an act of the will. We can fall into desire or infatuation, which are natural drives by which we seek to receive. We must choose to love. True love is the unnatural desire to give of one’s self without seeking anything in return. A number of years ago an 11-year-old girl in my confirmation class described true love as “active caring with no strings attached.” I’ve always liked that simple but accurate definition.

God chose to love us. He chooses to love us each day. He chooses to love us even when we choose not to love him. His choice to love us caused him to send his only Son to be our Savior. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). By the power of the Holy Spirit, God gives us the ability to choose to love him and to love one another.

This Valentine’s Day and every day, may we each choose to love one another. And may we each have a happy Valentine’s Day.

The Rev. Jeff Harter is pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, Sharon.

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