On the 14th of February, people in countries throughout the Western world, including here in Holland, will celebrate Valentine’s Day (except Eastern Orthodox Christians who celebrate Valentine’s Day in July). Many older Catholics still refer to 14th February as ‘Saint Valentine’s Day’.
Despite conflicting historical legends about a St. Valentine – the Roman Catholic Church counts 11 different saints with the name Valentine – the most plausible seems to be one which relates to the former Bishop Valentinus of Terni, Narnia and Amelia (in Umbria, Italy).
The story goes that this Valentine was imprisoned by Asterius, a judge who had an ulterior motive,.. his blind daughter. The girl was brought to Bishop Valentinus with a message from the judge – restore her eyesight and you will be set free. Valentinus laid his hand on her eyes and miraculously restored her vision. The bishop was released and demanded Asterius destroy all the pagan idols in his house, fast for three days and be baptised a Christian.
Unfortunately, Valentinus had not been swayed by his arrest and continued to proselytize. Soon he was arrested again, this time taken directly to emperor himself, Claudius II. Emperor Claudius Goticus had proclaimed an edict that prohibited the marriage of young people, based on a hypothesis that unmarried soldiers fought better than soldiers who were married. Despite Valentinus’ outspoken support of Christian marriage, Claudius liked him. But when Valentinus tried to convince the emperor to embrace Christianity, Claudius threatened him with death unless he renounced his faith. Valentinus refused and on February 14, in the year 269 A.D., was executed outside the Flaminian Gate.
It is said that the evening before Valentinus’ execution, he sent a note to Judge Asterius’ daughter, signed “Your Valentine”. Centurees later, this same expression “From your Valentine” appears in many Valentine’s Day greeting cards.
People celebrate St Valentine with a show of romantic love and affection. Over the past few centuries, the tradition of giving gifts has taken shape, with choclates and flowers being among the most commonly exchanged Valentine’s Day gifts.
Valentine’s Day in Holland
Celebrating Valentine’s Day here in the Netherlands is not a long established tradition as it is in many other countries. Whether that has more to do with the historical abolition of Catholicism or the well-known frugality of the Dutch is anyone’s guess. It wasn’t until the mid 1990’s that the Dutch began to embrace Valentine’s Day more commercially. Today retail stores, chocolate shops and bakeries abound with Valentine’s Day related items. Restaurants and nightclubs all regularly promote Valentine’s Day events.