It wouldn’t be February without the flurry of Valentine’s Day promotions all around us. But amidst the romantic cards, the hearts, the flowers and the chocolates, Valentine’s Day has a story all its own, with a surprising connection to veterans. 

 As the years pass, and we get more distracted by yet another commercialised day in the calendar, origin stories of days like these are inevitably lost. For Valentine’s Day there are a few to choose from but there’s consensus at least that there was definitely a Saint. In fact, there were many and the day is called St Valentine’s Day after the name on common that all those saints in the stories shared - Valentine.

 Many of the Saint Valentines were martyrs and there are relics and remains of them scattered through Basilicas all over Europe still today. Different religions recognise different Saint Valentines on various dates throughout the year.  However, the most famous story features a Roman Saint in 3rd century AD.  At a time when marriage was banned because it was thought to make men bad soldiers, Valentine snuck around marrying couples in secret. Once he was discovered, Valentine was thrown in jail, something happened between him and the jailer’s daughter – love, spiritual connection, who knows - and one of them was marched off to be executed for reasons that are mixed and largely unclear. Just before this happened though, Valentine wrote her a letter to her, signing off with ‘from your Valentine’.      

 So that explains the Saint but not the date.  One theory comes from the Roman festival of Lupercalia (it’s always the Romans isn’t it).  Held in the middle of February each year to mark the start of springtime, girls’ names were put into a box and boys drew them out, to then be boyfriend and girlfriend for the duration of the festival. This was such a successful event that the church wanted to make it a Christian celebration and give a nod to all the Saint Valentines at the same time.  There’s another story too – that Lupercalia was a pagan fertility festival where men would get naked and whip the backsides of the women to improve their fertility. But let’s not dig too deeply into that one.

Over time romantic connections to this day grew, as poets of the Middle Ages began to spout their declarations of love, and gradually symbolism crept in.  Handwritten letters, adorned with flowers and hearts were lovingly toiled upon, and of course that chubby little cherub Cupid was ever present, flinging arrows and perpetuating the joy of romantic love.  These symbols now have come to represent romance, and whatever the story is, on February 14 all over the world, someone somewhere is being loved, giving love, or thinking about love.

 Today Valentine's Day is largely a commercial exercise however it can still be a triggering day for many. For those who spend a lot of time alone, for those who are widowed or not partnered, or for those simply living with the day-to-day realities of loneliness, days like Valentine’s Day can tough. The spotlight on couples and togetherness can compound feelings of isolation and uncertainty and despite it being a largely commercial exercise, seeing others receive gifts or declarations of love can be painfully exclusive.

 If you’ve struggled on days like these before, it’s a good idea to plan ahead to spend some time with other people on the day. Getting out of the house and enjoying the company of others is not only a distraction, but also the very best way to counteract feeling alone. It’s important to have activities in your day and stay connected to the people in your community. It’s also a great time to look within yourself and offer some selfless love to those around you who may be feeling down. Love is not just about presents and grand declarations. Simple eye contact, the touch of a hand or a reassuring hug can transform the day of someone suffering quietly in the shadows.   

 If you are a veteran, know a veteran or are the family member of a veteran who is going through difficulties, you can contact the Australian Government’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs for assistance or contact us at Carry On and we can point you in the right direction.