So, today is St. Valentine's Day. As a rule, our holidays tend to have very little to do with the events that they're supposed to commemorate, or even their ostensible origins. Bunnies hiding candy eggs to celebrate resurrection and the defeat of sin and death is a bit of a stretch, for example. Sixth-generation Americans drinking green beer and pretending to be Irish relates to British missionary work in pagan Ireland how? But I ythink my favorite in this regard is Valentine's Day, both because it's a holiday that serves a great purpose in the here & now --celebrate the person you most love in your life; let them know how much you cherish them-- but also because its origins are so murky.
On the one hand, we know nothing about Valentine, other than that there were several figures of that name in early Xiandom, some of them martyrs. Later apologists fixed on a particular one of these as the original 'St.' Valentine, but their identification seems fairly dubious.
On the other hand, we have VALENTINUS, a very well known Xian theologian of the same era, the most influential teacher of his day and a much beloved figure to his many disciples; it was widely believed (truly or not we do not know) that his own teacher had been a disciple of Paul himself -- a sort of third-generation apostle.* It seems v. likely that 'Valentine', about whom we know nothing except a legend that he was beloved by all who knew him, and the gifted Xian leader Valentinus, author of works such as The Gospel of Truth, were one and the same.
Except that Valentinus isn't listed among the Church Fathers, because his followers ultimately did not become the mainstream of Xianity, and all his works were ultimately condemned as 'heretical'. So I suspect we have in 'St. Valentine' is the ghost of the memory of the person with all its content (what he actually taught) hollowed out. If so, in 'St. Valentine's Day' we have the Church devoting a feast day to commemorate a person who is condemned as a heretic under a slightly different spelling of his name.
Me, I think it just goes to show how differently we can appear in the eyes of our friends from those of our enemies. So it's a day that celebrates finding the best in others, especially those we love.
Happy Valentine's Day, all.
*cf. also Polycarp of Smyrna, who was venerated in his own lifetime as the last surviving person who had known one of the original twelve disciples (John the Evangelist).
I forgot that I wanted to include a brief mention of Japanese celebration of Valentine's Day, as represented in anime and manga. If these are to be trusted, they've taken our holiday and refined it in some interesting ways. On Valentine's Day itself, instead of an exchange of cards and flowers it's specifically a day when girls (and women) give gifts to guys; home-made chocolate seems to be the most prized gift of all. Then, one month later, the guys are supposed to respond on 'White Day' by giving some small gift to the person who gave them a special gift on Valentines. An interesting varient on the theme.
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