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Abby Dates Austin: Taking back Valentine's Day

Contrary to popular belief, Valentine’s Day is not about roses, Champagne, giant teddy bears, kisses that begin with Kay. In fact, its history traces back to third century Rome and the patron Saint Valentine, a religious martyr who was imprisoned for secretly marrying young couples when Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage, because he believed single men made better soldiers than those with families. Valentine was sentenced to death for disobeying the marriage law.

In another version of the story, Saint Valentine was imprisoned and executed for helping persecuted Christians escape Roman prisons where they were beaten and tortured. While in prison, he fell in love with a young lady who came to visit him, rumored to be the jailer’s daughter. He famously signed his last letter to her, “Your Valentine.” This holiday is a celebration of religious freedom, love, and one of the most altruistic causes there could be: freeing captives and speaking out.

Valentine’s Day has always been my favorite holiday. Every year until he passed away, my grandpa would send my sister and me a special valentine in the mail with a beautiful vintage paper doll inside. When I was in grade school, my mother and I rolled out sugar cookies and decorated dozens of treats to give to my teachers. When I got older, I toiled over handmade valentines for my classmates and relished the day we finally got to decorate our shoe boxes and exchange special messages.

 Valentine’s Day should be a celebration of the colors that dance secretly inside us all — the vibrancy and mystery that is all kinds of love. 

For the past eight years, I’ve used Valentine's Day as an opportunity to celebrate the women in my life. My tradition for this day of love includes hosting a dinner party for my lady friends and presenting a handcrafted valentine to each one of them.

I know the argument is that you ought to tell your friends you love them every day, and my answer to that is that I do. But what’s wrong with taking ownership of this day to go above and beyond for your friends? What’s wrong with a grand gesture? Speaking heart truths is important, and Valentine's Day is the perfect opportunity to do so. It isn’t just about couples, it's about celebrating the universal love and connectedness we all share with one another.

Valentine's Day is about those things I call joy bursts. It's about the feeling that happens when a stranger flashes an unexpected grin, or the unspoken camaraderie that comes from riding past another female cyclist, and our eyes meeting as if to say, “Hey sister. Pound it.”

Joy bursts happen every day, manifesting in these tiny inexplicable moments of authenticity that brighten my face and leave my heart throbbing. Valentine’s Day should be a celebration of the colors that dance secretly inside us all — the vibrancy and mystery that is all kinds of love.

Our culture is too quick to stifle unbridled enthusiasms, and to call it “uncool” to be captivated or fascinated. In some small way, Valentine’s Day is a chance to recapture that childhood spirit that geeks out about whatever it fancies, and openly shares sentiments in an authentic way.

Valentine's Day serves as our reminder that we really can be “in it” together — if we’ll allow ourselves to be.  

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