While France is typically idealized and romanticized, le jour de St. Valentin falls right into my spectrum of thinking. In America, Valentine's day is marked with piles of red and pink corporatism; bundling and stuffed with cheap manufactured chocolate and silly little cards with stupid phrases. In France, St. Valentin is the day to remember the guy that was tortured to death... right along my stream of realism.
St. Valentine, or during his time just Valentine, was a priest who would marry Christian couples under the radar of Roman rule. When Claudius caught on he had him captured, tried to convert him, when he refused he was killed and thus became a martyr. Somehow this day became a day to celebrate love and amour that can triumph despite ordeals and, well, Roman rule.
A great tradition that used to exist in France, is something called a lotterie d'amour. It was a strange custom that basically OK'd some swinging around with your neighbors and a chance to burn pictures of people that emotionally damaged you, while shouting offensive things. Now outlawed, apparently because the concept of random-pairing and obscenity-shouting was not such a good idea, the custom resembles closer to the American customs.
Of course, as I may be a realist, I still love history- and as a young girl my mother loved to tell me all the stories of great love. My favorite story is actually from a French couple in late 12th century.. Abelard and Heloise. Brought together through education, they fell in love immediately and secretly had a child. The uncle of Heloise was very unhappy with this situation and through a series of events it led to Abelard being castrated. Even the inability to express physical love couldn't keep them apart, as they both took place in an Abbey and took vows to God; they remained great lovers. The ultimate long distance relationship, they wrote extensive amounts of letters, proving that love can be beyond the physical.
So, on this day of love and capitalism, think of Abelard and Heloise; or the martyr Valentine. It doesn't have to be one of those days we spend too much money on candy- it can simply be a day where we celebrate life.
"I will still love you with all the tenderness of my soul till the last moment of my life." - Heloise to Abelard, 12th century, after the separation to their abbeys.