Irma McClaurin, PhD
Culture and Education Editor
Today, February 14, 2016, in the U.S and around the world we celebrate love. Most people associate this ritual with romantic love—the feelings we hold for someone with whom we are intimate or close friends. We also use it as a time to celebrate siblings, relatives, co-workers as people we “love.”
Valentine’s Day, Dia de São Valentim (Brazil), or Dia dos Namorados (Latin America) is believed to be connected to the Roman holiday Lupercalia celebrated to ward off evil spirits and purify the people, bringing good health.
But the most compelling explanation attributes Valentine’s Day to one or more saints named “Valentinus.” One story points to a Christian martyr named Saint Valentine who was executed and sent a letter to his jailer’s daughter , whom he had healed before being put to death, signed “Your Saint Valentine.”
The era of courtly love in the 14th century, during the time of Chaucer, seems to be where the connection between Valentine’s Day and romantic love flourished. It was during this time that the exchange of gifts, sweets and heart shaped cards took roots, though St. Valentine’s keys (to “unlock the lover’s heart”) were also given to children to “ward off epilepsy.”
Today, we give cards to our lovers, spouses, classmates, colleagues, and everyone and anybody towards whom we feel some affection. In Japan, it is men who are the recipients of “girl-chocos” (chocolates) from their women friends, lovers and spouses, who hope these romantic gestures will be reciprocated a month later on “White Day,” March 14, with honmei-choco or “chocolate of love.”
I’ve had my fair share of loves—romantic, towards someone I’ve known since elementary school, to the guy who first read black poetry to me, and, of course, the Caribbean gentle giant who fixed cars, and a few others who have woven themselves into my heart and life, but who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty. And more familial love towards a mentor who now lies helpless in hospice, but who taught me how to be a gourmet cook, and transferred to me her love of champagne, lobster and Black history.
It is wonderful to celebrate these feelings but in this ritual of gift exchanges to symbolize love, which today is a billion dollar industry around the world, we seem to have forgotten the origins of St. Valentine’s salutation—Your Valentine and why he sent it. His was a gesture to remind the young girl that despite saving her life, he was being put to death by her father for his beliefs. His generosity of love for her humanity that motivated him to save her life, when his own was at risk, was not being reciprocated.
This should give us pause. It is easy to love a single individual: much harder to love the amorphous collective called “humanity.” Yet, the greatest type of love we should celebrate today is the love of humanity. If we can overlook the flaws and imperfections of our romantic lovers, our spouses, our children, our colleagues, our family (and ourselves), then why is it so impossible for us to express our love of humanity towards those whose religion, lack of religious beliefs, whose skin color differs, whose sexual orientations diverge from our beliefs, and whose physical or mental abilities do not reflect our own?
Where did the human race get so off track? Where did Christianity and Islam lose their humanism and feel quite comfortable with discrimination and the killing of innocents all in the name of religious beliefs, doctrines and ideology? Where is the Godliness in that?
Today, and for the days to follow hereafter, we should look beyond the surface and superficial differences and recognize that we are all part of a divine creation, whether the result of evolution or God’s/Allah’s/Krishna’s/ Buddha’s will.
And we should celebrate the fact that every day we awake is proof of life and our worthiness to breath air, watch sunsets and demonstrate a generosity of heart, as did St. Valentine, because it is the right thing to do. No chocolates, no hearts, no flowers—just unadulterated humanism.
Only then will we know “true love” for ourselves and the rest of humanity.
Irma McClaurin is an award winning columnist, now available for syndication. In 2015, she received the Black Press of America’s Emory O. Jackson Column Writing Award from the NNPA. She is the Culture and Education Editor for Insight News, an activist anthropologist, writer, motivational speaker and champion of diversity and inclusiveness leadership. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her at: www.irmamcclaurin.com and @mcclaurintweets
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