Yesterday, I’m in Norwich, Vermont. As I walk down the street, a young man carrying a
4 foot stuffed bear (in a snow storm) greets his girlfriend and presents her with the bear. The
girlfriend was quite smitten with the bear. She hugged and kissed the bear repeatedly. I got the
feeling that the boyfriend wished his girlfriend was as affectionate with him as she was with the
bear – maybe later.
When I got back to the office, there was a box of goodies for me. A co-employee was
kind enough to leave some chocolates and fruit – not only for me but for others within the
building. It was a wonderful surprise. I quickly gulped down four chocolates and then felt
immediately guilty for having done so.
My wife is currently in Florida. Although she is away, I received a very nice Valentine’s
Day card from here. Inside the card was $1. That has been our ritual for many years. When we
exchange cards, we stick a dollar in the card. It always brings a smile to our face. It must remind
us of when we were kids and our parents or a relative would stick a buck in the card.
All this good cheer made me want to research the origin of Valentine’s Day. So, grab a
chocolate strawberry and snuggle up to the bear. I will tell you the story.
It’s the third century. There’s this wicked Roman emperor named Claudius II. There is
also this Christian fellow named Valentinus. Claudius orders all Romans to worship twelve
gods. He also makes it a crime punishable by death to associate with Christians (this really hurts
me as we aren’t that bad). Valentinus is dedicated to the ideals of Christ, so he isn’t deterred by
Claudius’s threats. Valentinus is resigned to practicing his beliefs but for his efforts, Valeninus
is arrested and imprisoned.
During the last weeks of Valentinus’s life, Valeninus makes a friend of his jailer. The
jailer sees that Valeninus is a learned man and a good teacher. The jailer asks whether his
daughter, Julia, might be brought to Valentinus for lessons. The daughter has been blind since
birth. Julia is a pretty young girl with a quick mind. Valentinus greets the young girl and reads
stories of Rome’s history to her. He describes the world of nature to her. He teaches her
arithmetic and tells her about God. Julia then sees the world through Valeninus’s eyes. She
begins to trust Valeninus. She begins to love being around him.
Julia asks Valeninus: “Valentinus, does God really hear our prayers?” “Yes, my child,
He hears each one.” “Do you know what I pray for every morning and every night? I pray that I
might see. I want so much to see everything you’ve told me about!” “God does what is best for
us if we will only believe in Him,” Valentinus said. “Oh, Valentinus, I do believe! I do!” She
knelt and grasped his hand. They sat quietly together, each praying. Suddenly there was a
brilliant light in the prison cell. Radiant, Julia screamed, “Valentinus, I can see! I can see!”
“Praise be to God!” Valentinus exclaimed, and he knelt in prayer.
On the eve of his death Valentinus wrote a last note to Julia, urging her to stay close to
God. He signed it, “From your Valentine.”
Valentinus was executed the next day – February 14, 270 A.D. This was not a happy
ending. It is said that Julia planted a pink-blossomed almond tree near his grave. Today, the
almond tree remains a symbol of abiding love and friendship.
So – this is how Valentine’s Day began. Now, on each February 14, Saint Valentine’s
Day, messages of affection, love, and devotion are exchanged around the world. Enjoy your
bear, your chocolate strawberries, and the hugs and kisses that go with all of this and thank Saint
Valentine for starting the tradition.