“Exploring the politics of Valentine’s Day—from martyrdom to chocolates and politics!”

By: Lesira Rampa

And so the legend goes, wrapped in history’s labyrinths of mystery and passed on from generation to generation. “From your Valentine,” St. Valentine signs off a note on the day of his execution written to Julia, a jailer’s daughter. Becoming a phrase that will go down in history as a symbol of affection and love.

It is said that in Rome’s third century, Emperor Claudius II banned marriage for young men with the conviction that they made better soldiers in-state. However, there existed a priest who defied those orders and went on to perform illegal marriages for young lovers in spaces of secrecy, allowing them to escape the army and start a family, which spelled freedom for the young men. Among the ones he married were a couple named Julia and her significant other. But the couple’s happiness was short-lived because St. Valentine, being the cupid priest of ancient Rome, was stopped in his tracks shortly after the emperor’s soldiers discovered what he had been up to. As fate would have it, this led to his arrest and, later, his death sentence on February 14th.While awaiting execution, he met the blind daughter of his jailer, with whom it is claimed that he miraculously restored her sight and developed a deep bond. Letters were exchanged between St. Valentine and Julia, expressing their devotion and love for one another. The day of his execution, he bid her an eternal goodbye and signed off the letter with his name: “From your Valentine.”

Valentine’s Day, originally a tribute to the martyr St. Valentine by the Roman Catholic Church, has utterly evolved over the years. What began as a commemoration has gradually morphed into one extravagant day that brims with gift cards, romantic dinners, and boxes of chocolates—did I forget a bouquet of flowers literally wrapped in bank notes? A steady blend of romance and capitalism.

Beyond its romantic essence, Valentine’s Day has embraced commercial significance, becoming a billion-dollar industry. Suddenly, love has been framed as an economic currency. It is no secret that the persistent marketing of extravagant gifts and generous gestures has moulded a culture of materialism, leaving the majority with a lonely feeling of exclusion and inadequacy. Many have unrealistic expectations for their relationships. A familiar scenario: the day comes, and without hesitation, you scroll through social media and begin to compare the sweet quarter-paragraph text you received from your suitor to posts of luxury enthusiasts on your timeline—your eyes reflecting a sea of balloons, heavy bouquets of roses, and diamond jewelry. Uhhh, the envy that hits you!

It further gets political: males are forced to maintain a particular masculinity standard in which they must be assertive and dominant in their romantic relationships. However, women are often depicted as passive recipients of the sentiments, strengthening the notion that they feel incomplete without men’s validation and affection. These gender roles and societal pressures have proved to be rather damaging.

What’s more, Saint Valentine’s Day has been intertwined with some of the political and social movements, notably the political activism of the LGBTQIA+ community, where gender equality and social change are advocated; their need to feel included and to raise awareness in society that all dynamics of romantic relationships are worthy of celebration. Acknowledging various types of relationships fosters inclusivity and supports the rights and dignity of the queer community.

This day of love has without a doubt helped raise a lot of political issues, from religious appropriation, disability rights, and cultural appropriation to matters surrounding immigration policies. It has been used as an opportunity to advocate for immigration reform and shed light on the effects of immigration policies on love, relationships, and families.

Valentine’s Day is therefore a day to celebrate love, whether platonic, romantic, or related to self-love. It is also important to encourage authentic, genuine gestures when celebrating this day, regardless of the price tag. This will help nurture a more equitable, stress-free, and fulfilling Valentine’s Day for all.

“Love recognises no barriers, jumps all hurdles, leaps fences, and penetrates walls to arrive at its destination, full of hope” (Maya Angelou).