Nobody quite knows which saint gave his name to February 14, the day on which lovers traditionally send each other Valentine’s cards. Biographies of two Valentines honoured on this date, from the second and third centuries, offer no romantic connections. Geoffrey chaucer, author of Canterbury Tales, may have created the Love-factor in the 14th century when courting became a flourishing tradition.
Since little was known of either of the Valentines, outside of legend, the Roman Catholic Church removed St Valentine’s from the General Roman Calendar as a feast day, relegating it to local calendars.
And legends there are, which have been further embroidered through the ages. One portrays a priest named Valentine who was arrested for performing secret marriages in disobedience to the emperor’s command that young men stay single and available for military service. On the eve of his execution, he wrote a farewell note to the love of his life, signed, From your Valentine.
Belorussians tell a story in which Valentine, rejected by his mistress, cut out his still-beating heart and sent it to her as a token of his undying love.
Nevertheless, this week, all around the world, lovers will send each other Valentine Cards, including virtual cards via e-mail, in continuation of this tradition.
In 1996, Englishman Richard Kane hit on the idea of extending the day into a whole week of celebration of marriage, starting February 7 through to the 14th. And so National Marriage Week began in England, and spread quickly up and down the country. Formal opening ceremonies in the Houses of Parliament, and bouquets of roses delivered to 10 Downing Street, have given Marriage Week a national profile in the media.
In recent years, the concept has spread across the Channel. This year Marriage Week is also being held in Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Sweden, Germany and Ireland. (see www.marriage-weekinternational.com)
Marriage Week celebrates the diversity and vibrancy of marriage as the basis for family life, and as the foundation for modern society. Nation-wide coalitions prepare activities, publications and events aimed to help couples communicate, resolve conflict, or ‘improve their love-life’.
In Germany, state television ran a documentary on Sunday morning about the country’s first Marriage Week, to be followed up later in the week. As in Ireland, also holding Marriage Week for the first time, hotels and restaurants offer discounts for couples, who can download discount coupons from the Marriage Week website before heading off for a romantic evening together.
Celebrating Commitment is the theme of this year’s Marriage Week, reflecting both the foundation of marriage, and the stabilising influence marriage brings to society at large.
Marriage remains incredibly popular, argues Kane: over 90% of young people in the UK aspire to be married at some point in the future, and the large majority will achieve this. He counters the popular impression that marriages don’t last, by explaining that two out of every three first marriages will last until one partner dies, and one in two second or subsequent marriages will also last a lifetime. The divorce rate in Britain, has remained virtually static since the early 1980’s.
Current research suggests that the enduring stability of marriage results from the commitment that two people make to each other, embodied in their vows, and supported by family, friends, and society at large, says Kane. Many couples today however come to marriage to celebrate the stability of their relationships rather than to initiate them, so we see couples marrying later in life, often after living together for a period, and even after buying their home and starting a family. Marriage Week is intended for believers and non-believers alike, encouraging all to deepen their mutual commitment.
Swiss politician Oskar Freysinger writes that Marriage Week is ‘a very good initiative in this time of endemic divorces. Personally, my wife and I have been happily married for nearly 20 years and do a great deal of things together as a couple. During the week of February 7th, we will do even more in favour of “marriage week”.’
Valentine-whoever he was-could never have imagined the global ritual held annually in his name.
Till next week,