By COSMAS OMEGOH
Today is Valentine’s Day. Every February 14, the world goes on fire. Love is seen hanging in the air. You smell it; you touch it. Even the blind feels the impact. The story of Valentine’s Day dates back to history. The celebration is believed to have started as a pagan feast. Later, a Catholic priest, St. Valentine, who was martyred in the fourth century, was said to have given the celebration a new meaning. Through his strong faith, he allegedly transformed the day, which has now survived the ages.
Now, it is turning the world around. Many have come to believe and embrace it as a day for lovers. And they are doing incredible things to celebrate it. As the story goes, “Valentine’s Day has its origins in pagan times. In ancient Rome this feast day was known as Lupercalia, the “feast of Lupercus.” Lupercus was the Roman god that protected people from wolves, which were a great danger in that area. The wolves, which lived in the woods, would carry off the farmers’ sheep and goats. Sometimes the farmers and their families were not even safe.
“Each year in the middle of February, the Romans honoured the god Lupercus by giving him thanks for protecting them from the wolves. The people feasted, danced and played games. When the young men wanted partners for the dancing and games, they drew names of girls from a bowl. Sometimes they became sweethearts, too. This went on for hundreds of years. “When Christianity came to Rome, the Christian Romans put aside their belief in Lupercus but because Lupercalia was a happy time and they did not want to give it up, the feast of Lupercalia was replaced with the feast of St. Valentine.
“Then one year, a young couple, Julius and Octavia, loved each other very much and wanted to get married. Since Julius was a soldier and soldiers in that city were not allowed to get married, they decided to get married secretly. They went to Fr. Valentine, a very kind priest, who lived outside the city. “When Julius and Octavia arrived at Fr. Valentine’s home, they found a beautiful flower garden. Fr. Valentine was surrounded by little children, who were helping him with his plants and flowers. As the children left, Fr. Valentine gave each of them a bouquet of flowers to take with them. “Some time later, Fr. Valentine married Julius and Octavia, who were very happy to be married by a Christian priest. They knew God would be pleased with them.
“One day the children went to the garden to visit Fr. Valentine. When they arrived, they found the flowers trampled and the house empty. Fr. Valentine had been taken away to the jail because he believed that Jesus was God. Fr. Valentine was not afraid. He trusted in God to help him. “The children decided to take care of Fr. Valentine’s garden. They knew that would make him happy. Every day some of the children would take him flowers from his garden. The jailer’s blind daughter took the flowers into the jail and gave them to Fr. Valentine. “The jailer’s daughter was very kind to Fr. Valentine. Before Fr. Valentine was put to death for believing in God, he prayed to Jesus, asking Him to heal the jailer’s daughter of her blindness and she was healed.
Before Fr. Valentine died, he wrote her a good-bye letter and signed it “From Your Valentine.” Ever since then, February 14, the day Fr. Valentine died, became a day of celebration.” But a Lagos-based Catholic priest isn’t pleased that the day has become something else. Reverend Father Michael Afrifa said the church acknowledges and celebrates St Valentine just like every other saint, adding that he is seen as a past hero. According to him, the late priest symbolises love and that is why “February 14 in the Church’s liturgical calendar is dedicated to showing love. It is a call to love because love is everything and God’s worship is love. It should not be a one-day affair; rather it draws attention to the fact that the love of God and man ought to be practised everyday.”
Fr. Afrifa regretted that the love Valentine portrays has been distorted. “Now, the world has a different idea of St Valentine’s Day. Many people have designated the day as Lovers’ Day. This shouldn’t be so. Nowadays, you see minors saying ‘this is my lover!’ This is a distorted view of the love St Valentine meant. Once you hear minors talking about love from the erotic sense, the next thing, they begin to sleep with each other. That is why the former Archbishop of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Okogie was always calling the young ones together on St Valentine’s Day to explain to them what the day is and what it’s not.
The idea was to direct their minds to the true meaning of St Valentine’s Day.” Meanwhile, a housewife in Lagos, Mrs. Osaro, has told Daily Sun that her three children in a private nursery and primary school in Surulere have been asked by the schoolteachers to prepare for the Lovers’ Day today. The children, a male and two females, were handed a dress code – a white top upon red trousers or skirts. “I have been searching for a pair of red trousers for my son who is eight,” she said. “Before the D-day, I would have got something for the girls too since I don’t want them to look different from their peers.”
A teacher, Madam Angelina, who heads a public primary school in Ibadan, Oyo State, admitted that children in most private schools across the country were being told to wear “love dresses” to school on Valentine’s Day. She said it was a good idea to teach the children love and sharing but wrong to compel them to wear some particular dress as a show of love. “In the public schools, this is unacceptable. It is not in our programme. But some private school owners compel their pupils to come to school in dresses which depict love.
It is good to teach the children love, sharing and exchange of gifts. This will help to prepare them for life in the future. But one has to be careful not to encourage immorality,” she warned. A university teacher, Dr Nkechi Christopher, who teaches Communication and Language Arts at the University of Ibadan, has doubts if Valentine’s Day celebration by primary and secondary school pupils is being done in the right spirit. “It is possible that they are celebrating Valentine’s Day while leaving the spirit behind.
If it is so, then where are they directing the love? “In our days in the secondary school, we were taught to embrace the spirit of Valentine’s Day. But the beauty of it then was that ours was an all girls’ school. We were encouraged to make new friends among ourselves. We picked ballots to select our Valentine mates whom we gave gifts. But that was as far as it went. Now it appears that the focus has shifted.” She urged parents to find out what most schools were doing with their children to ensure that they were not promoting immorality all in the name of celebrating Valentine’s Day. “If they are promoting true friendship and love, that is okay.
Part of the effort should be to ensure that such love is restricted to the platonic level. If it is not strictly so, I don’t see any reason children should be pushed to the point of embracing immorality so early in life,” she reasoned. Speaking in the same vein, Ese Omorebokhae who works with an NGO with interest in HIV/AIDS and youth management felt strongly that the Valentine’s Day is now a twisted celebration. She said: “I believe the idea is for young people to meet and make friends.
It should not be friends that will corrupt their lives – friends that will not help them learn new things and remain pure. “Unfortunately, many young ones are taking advantage of this day to do things that are immoral. They make a lot of things happen – young girls are taken to hotel rooms and deflowered, many get pregnant, relationships are broken and the future of many is shattered.”