Can you really say you love someone without showering him/her with gifts on an important day as Valentine’s? And if you decide to attribute your inability to cash crunch will your excuse fly? These and many more issues occupied my mind yesterday as I thought about the day and the difficulties Nigerians are passing through to eke out a living. Right now, things are so hard in this country that men are afraid to date women talk less of getting married. Fear of where the next meal will come from is visible in almost every home, except perhaps, those of the nouve riche. Even then, there are ways to celebrate Valentine without emptying one’s pocket. How about giving roasted bole ( plantain) and groundnut, or natural flowers? You will be amazed how such gifts will be received.
All over the world, February 14 is observed as Valentines’ Day. On such days, people exhibit love for one another by sending cards, letters, text messages, flowers and arranging meals in restaurants or romantic nights in hotels. People who would like to have a romantic relationship with somebody use the occasion to make this known, often anonymously. Valentine’s cards are often decorated with images of hearts, red roses or Cupid. Common Valentine gifts are flowers, chocolates, candy, lingerie and champagne or sparkling wine. However, some give exotic gifts such as jewelry and electronics.
Nigeria is not left out of this frenzy. While driving through the streets of Lagos yesterday morning and Abuja at night, I noticed a very ‘colourful’ trend. A lot more people, so it seemed, put on red outfits. People do wear red clothes naturally but being Valentine’s Day made the trend much more auspicious. The normally not congested streets of Abuja had most of its fast food joints, restaraunts and recreational outfits (gardens) stretched to very uncomfortable limits. It was not unusual to see two lovebirds queuing for hours just to buy meat pie, shawarma, ice cream and soft drinks; and after the food and drinks had been bought, there was no space for the love birds to sit and relax, as all seats were already taken. They had to make do with relaxing on a parked vehicle.
When my generation was much younger, Valentine’s Day was largely an elitist celebration so to say. Its main celebrants were the middle to higher class couples who could afford some of the expensive romantic goodies that came with the event. Today, the celebration of Valentine’s Day cuts across all strata of Nigeria’s urban population, workers, students, pupils, even the 24hour house wife would wish to be part of the fun.
But how did all these come about? Valentine’s Day started in the time of the Roman Empire. In ancient Rome, February 14th was a holiday to honour Juno. Juno was the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. The Romans also knew her as the Goddess of women and marriage. The following day, February 15th, began the Feast of Lupercalia.
The lives of young boys and girls were strictly separate. However, one of the customs of the young people was name drawing. On the eve of the festival of Lupercalia the names of Roman girls were written on slips of paper and placed into jar. Each young man would draw a girl’s name from the jar and would thereafter be partners for the duration of the festival with the girl whom he selected. Sometimes, the pairing of the children lasted an entire year, and often, they would fall in love and would later marry.
Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II, Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns. Claudius the Cruel was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. He believed that the reason was that roman men did not want to leave their loved ones or families. As a result, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome. The good Saint Valentine was a priest at Rome in the days of Claudius II. He and Saint Marius aided the Christians martyrs and secretly married couples, and for this kind deed Saint Valentine was apprehended and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. He suffered martyrdom on the 14th day of February, about the year 270.
And do you know what? While he was still in jail, young people came to the jail to visit him. They threw flowers and notes up to his window. They wanted him to know that they, too, believed in love.
One of these young people was the daughter of the prison guard. Her father allowed her to visit him in cell. Sometimes they would sit and talk for hours. She helped him to keep his spirit up. She agreed that he did the right thing by ignoring the Emperor and going ahead with the secret marriages. On the day he was to die, Valentine left his friend a little note thanking her for her friendship and loyalty. He signed it, “Love from your Valentine.”
That note started the custom of exchanging love messages on Valentine’s Day. It was written on the day he died, February 14th, 269 A.D. Now, every year on this day, people remember St. Valentine. But most importantly, they think about love and friendship. And when they think of Emperor Claudius, they remember how he tried to stand in the way of love, and they laugh…. Because they know that love can’t be beaten.
At that time it was the custom in Rome, a very ancient custom, indeed, to celebrate in the month of February the Lupercalia feasts in honour of a heathen god. On these occasions, amidst a variety of pagan ceremonies, the names of young women were placed in a box, from which they were drawn by the men as chance directed.
The pastors of the early Christian Church in Rome endeavoured to do away with the pagan element in these feasts by substituting the names of saints for those of maidens. And as the Lupercalia began about the middle of February, the pastors appear to have chosen Saint Valentine’s Day for the celebration of this new feast. So it seems that the custom of young men choosing maidens for valentines, or saints as patrons for the coming year arose in this way.
Unfortunately, what we now do on Valentine’s Day is opposite of the original intent. Valentine has become a day for sexual immorality cutting across the single and married. After the fun, what comes next? Unwanted pregnancies, broken homes, filtered environment and huge debts, borrowed to please a loved one.
Indeed, we all need love and if the quantum of love we shower on and profess to one another on Valentine’s Day is sustained afterwards, the hatred for fellow Nigerian will disappear. But this is not the case. So where is the love? Why is our country starved of love?. Why is sincere love in short supply? Why so much hate? Why so little love?
How much do you love God? How much do you love your wife, husband, children, neighbour, brethren, co-worker etc? It is my prayer that as we celebrate Valentine day, God will touch our hearts to know him more and genuinely love one another and display such pure love that would propel one to go out and plant the seed of love in someone’s life! HAPPY VALENTINE.

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