Valentine’s Day is named for a man: Saint Valentine. That was his name. Valentine. When he was a kid, he got beat up a lot.
He wasn’t Saint Valentine at first, of course. He would have gotten beaten up even more often if he were. No, the “Saint” part always comes later—and unfortunately long after the canonized one is dead and gone.
Although I know a guy whose first name IS actually Saint. His parents obviously had high hopes for him. He grew up with three siblings: Angel, Pious and Spotless.
Years later, Saint’s parents must have had a change a mind when a fifth child came along: Beelzebub. He turned out to be the nicest kid in the family, so you never know.
But what a great first name Saint is! It sure would look good on a job resume.
INTERVIEWER: “So it says here that you’re a saint?”
SAINT: “Yea, I am. But that doesn’t exactly pay the bills.“
INTERVIEWER: “Well, we’ve got an opening in our sales department. You interested?”
SAINT: “I’ll give it a try—just don’t expect miracles.”
INTERVIEWER: “Hmm. Some saint.”
According to legend, the Saint Valentine that the holiday is named after lived way back in the third century—or, as people in the fourth century called it, “The Good Old Days.”
Valentine was a priest living in Rome—a magnificent Italian city that was considered to be the Des Moines of its time. Unfortunately, its ruler was a guy named Claudius the Second. He was considered to be the Enumclaudius the Second of his time.
Claudius was not beloved. Not at all. In fact, behind his back, his enemies called him “Clod, Jr.” When Claudius found about the name-calling, he was philosophical: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, “ he was heard to say. “But words will never hurt me.”
Then he broke his enemies’ bones with sticks and stones.
Pretty soon he became known as “Claudius the Cruel.” By then, the people of Rome were really starting to miss his father, “Claudius the Soft Touch.”
You’re wondering what all this has to with Valentine’s Day? Hang on. It’s coming.
Claudius—the Cruel—decided that he wanted Rome to get involved in as many bloody
and unpopular wars as possible. Problem was, some Roman men didn’t want to go off and fight—preferring instead to stay home, drink wine coolers and make out with their girlfriends.
Even with recruitment posters plastered all over town (“Uncle Samiticus Wants You!”), the men weren’t signing up.
So Claudius raised the cruelty bar a little higher. He canceled all weddings and marriage engagements in Rome. He figured that if Roman guys couldn’t get hitched—they’d go for a hitch in the army instead.
But that’s where Valentine enters the picture. As a priest, Valentine started secretly meeting with couples—and performing private wedding ceremonies—all strictly against Claudius’s decree. Things went along smoothly until one of Claudius’s informants noticed a couple signing the bridal registry at Bed, Roman Bath and Beyond.
Valentine was busted, tossed in jail for months—although occasionally taken outdoors to be whipped. At least Claudius was consistently cruel.
But during his time behind bars, Valentine became pals with his jailer—and left a farewell note for the guy’s daughter. He signed it: “From your Valentine.” It was as simple as that.
It didn’t include earrings from Walmart. No applets and cotlets. Not even flowers from Albertson’s. Just the note.
Then, Claudius decided it was curtains for Valentine. And not the kind you can get for 30-50% off at J. C. Penney.
That’s why in the year 496, Pope Gelasius (which is Latin for ‘petroleum jelly’) set aside February 14th to honor the martyred Valentine—the patron saint of lovers.
The pope also set aside a day to honor Saint Labor, but that’s another story.
When you think about it, Valentine seems like the perfect name for a holiday about love and romance. It just sounds right, doesn’t it?
But what if Valentine had a different, less romantic-sounding name? If so, nowadays we might be exchanging Floozbonger Day cards: “Won’t you be my Floozbonger?”
Candy stores might be selling heart-shaped boxes of Muckenfusser Day chocolates.
And perhaps school kids would be reading about the infamous St. Bunklewort’s
Sometimes it’s nice the way things work out.