Tis the season, that time of year when we are bombarded with the color red, when marketers remind us that love has a dollar sign. Valentine’s Day is approaching, and while some feel pressured to put their hearts on display, others feel especially undesirable and alone. Most of us rarely research the roots of this modern day ritual, which now focuses on gifting cards and chocolate. The legends and myths date back to ancient Rome, and involve persecution and prison, rather than poetry and passion. But what is the true meaning of Valentine’s Day?
When I wrote the song, ‘I Love You with All My Blood,’ I was not aware of the ancient pagan fertility festival held in mid-February to honor the Roman god of agriculture. Lupercalia was the time of year the priests sacrificed a goat, dipped the hide in blood, and “gently” slapped both women and crop fields with the soaking red skin in hopes of a fertile season. A matchmaking ceremony followed the blood bath. Nature was already in the throws of mating season, so humans followed their instincts.
In addition to this practice, there were a few Roman priests named Valentino who eventually became martyred saints. One legend reveals the emperor beheading a priest for secretly marrying couples despite marriage being outlawed as it distracted young soldiers from their duties on the battlefield. Another legend tells the story of a different priest named Valentino who wrote love letters from his prison cell, or perhaps he delivered letters of love for prisoners. Who can really be sure of the historical truth? These events supposedly happened almost two thousand years ago.
As long as there has been the written word, there has been poetry, the language of love. But the wide distribution of Valentine’s cards did not get into full swing until the development of the printing press. As soon as humans could mass produce, and earn money doing so, you know this idea of romance could pull at not only your heart strings, but also your wallet. But the modernized commercialism of this day should not distract you from the point of the celebration.
Our ancestors were in tune with the rhythms of Mother Nature. Spring has begun in many parts of the world. The birds and other animals are beginning to mate. The earth is preparing for growth. The symbolism of blood, of life force energy, is being shared. The color red enforces that idea. Passion is the root of this festival, the desire to celebrate life, and being alive. We are celebrating love.
So go ahead and express yourself in any way you desire. Write a love letter to yourself. Honor how far you have come on this journey. Then send a text to a friend to show how much you care for them. Call a family member. Check in on a neighbor. Put out some bird seed to share with your feathered friends. Hug a tree. These are all signs of love. These are all Valentines. Say ‘I love you with all my blood,’ and mean it, because nothing else matters but love.