Opinion

So.. Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Reader, I married him. I looked at him across the dancefloor and stared deep into his eyes. 

‘Will you?’, I said, heart-racing, vision blurring. 

‘I don’t know you very well, but…okay,’ he replied.

Success! 3 days into freshers and I have scored a guaranteed friend! They have to stick around if you marry them, right? Maybe I should start thinking about college-children. Maybe I should be more worried about my vision blurring – that shouldn’t happen after 2 VKs at Bridge… Or maybe I should find out my new husband’s name…

College marriages. Such is the nature of love at Oxford. Just one more ‘weird college thing’ you have to explain to your friends back home. I mean, sure, some people have real relationships at University (something to do with ‘commitment’? I don’t know), but for a lot of students, Oxford terms are just too busy to allow time for a romantic connection.

But whether you’ll be with that special someone, whether you’re visiting The Four Candles with your mates (re-open, Spoons, we need you), or you’re trying to stay awake in the library, there’s got to be some sort of acknowledgment that it is, in fact, Valentine’s Day.

Every year on the 14th of February, a large proportion of the British young adult population wakes up to a message from their mum saying ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ and wonder briefly what that says about their love life. Of this proportion, the majority conclude that the celebration is stupid and ‘what is Valentine’s Day anyway?’. Well, reader who is probably procrastinating on Facebook, here goes…

As well as being an excuse for America to collectively spend around $1.8 billion on chocolate, Valentine’s Day is more than a celebration of love. What we are unknowingly paying tribute to is the legend of Saint Valentine, a festivity added to the Christian calendar in the 5th century. There are actually 3 recorded martyrs who went by the name ‘Valentine’, which is not confusing at all, but the most famous is Saint Valentine of Rome.

According to the ‘Passio Marii et Marthae’ record, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, and our good friend Wikipedia, Saint Valentine was a priest living under Emperor Claudius II in the Roman Empire, around the 3rd century. The legend goes that Claudius forbade his soldiers to marry because he believed celibacy made them better fighters. Unsurprisingly, many didn’t support the emperor’s dreams of a testosterone-fuelled brawl, and called upon Saint Valentine to wed them in secret, for which he was thrown in jail. Other sources say that Saint Valentine was imprisoned for attempting to convert Claudius to Christianity. Whatever the reason, it was in his cell that Valentine restored the sight of the jailor’s blind daughter.

But where is the love plot, you ask, if you have not yet gone back to your tute sheet? After all, this is the story of Valentine’s Day. Well, supposedly, the night before his execution, the imprisoned priest sent a letter to the jailor’s daughter, named Asterius, and signed it ‘Your Valentine’. And so, every year on the 14th February, millions of cards are sent around the world expressing love and friendship. Aww.

There are some other reasons why we celebrate Valentine’s Day and associate it with romance, such as a bird-mating story in Chaucer’s ‘Parliament of Fowls’, but that’s probably enough sappy love-stuff for now…until next year, of course.

Becky Whant

Rebecca Whant is an opinion writer for The Oxford Blue. She is studying English at St Edmund Hall College and will hopefully go on to become a lawyer. As well as the UK, Rebecca is originally from The Seychelles.