Not many days serve as a reminder of what is missing in one's life like Valentine's Day does.
February 14 is the day when romance is celebrated with cards, flowers, chocolates or jewellery. It's the date that is popular for popping the question or for tying the knot. It's the day when those in romantic relationships unabashedly display their happiness, while those who are not endure two weeks of being reminded by the advertising industry of what they lack in their lives.
Some uncertainty prevails as to whether Valentine's Day had its origin in pagan festivals during the Roman Empire. What is certain however is that it was Pope Gelasius I, Pope from 492 to 496, who established St Valentine's Day in order to commemorate men of the Church who were martyred because of their faith. At least three men called Valentine are associated with Valentine's Day, two of whom died on February 14 but in different years, meaning Valentine's Day is not associated with one specific Saint Valentine.
Geoffrey Chaucer, who lived from about 1343 to 1400, first associated St Valentine's Day with romance in his fable The Parliament of Fowls. The oldest valentine message was written in French in 1415, while the oldest English-language valentine was composed in 1477.
Today the European tradition of sending love messages in February is a worldwide phenomenon and one we seem to have embraced, unreservedly even expanding it to include the giving of gifts and having candlelight dinners.
In history, February 14, 1929 was the day when Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, in 1984 it was the day when ice skating legends Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won Olympic gold in Sarajevo. On February 14, 2005, a terrorist bomb killed the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and in 2013 during the early morning hours of February 14, shots rang out in a house in Silver Lakes, Pretoria, eviscerating two promising lives. The date has yielded both praiseworthy and gruesome events.
Valentine's Day is the day I think of a woman I knew, who justified staying in a troubled relationship fraught with disrespect and violence by saying that she was incapable of being alone on this day.
The 2013 Valentine's Day killing of a young woman at the hands of her Olympic athlete boyfriend shocked the world and highlighted the World Health Organisation's 2012 finding that more than 35% of all murders of women across the globe are reportedly committed by an intimate partner, while only approximately 5% of all murders of men are committed by their significant other.
For me, Valentine's Day is the day I think of a woman I knew, who justified staying in a troubled relationship fraught with disrespect and violence with the fact that she was incapable of being alone on Valentine's Day.
The fear of being alone on Valentine's day seems to be very real. A poll taken in 2013 indicated that in the USA 24 percent of the men questioned would rather have root canal procedure done on them than be single on Valentine's Day.
Unawareness of commercial manipulation through mass media hype, globalisation, and unbridled commercialism in matters of the heart makes us all unwise consumers of relationships, romance, and human passion.
No other holiday exploits matters of the heart like Valentine's Day.
Thus, every Valentine's Day I take a few minutes to quietly celebrate those who do not have romance in their lives, those single women and men who despite ubiquitous reminders of romance before and on February 14, manage to navigate this time with joy and dignity.