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#20: Love Proverbs from 16 Countries
Reflections on love and Valentine's Day through the lenses of history and proverbs.
Proverbs on Blast is a newsletter of reflection on PROVERBS and the gems they offer for personal and professional growth. Posts are written by a learner on a quest for more wisdom (me). Please keep reading. Comment at the end. Share this post. Subscribe for more.
Happy valentine’s day to you.
In many countries, February 14 is one of the most commercially profitable days of the year. The greeting card industry, restaurants, hotels, and all those that deal with any part of the cake, chocolate, flowers, candles, perfumes, gift bags, wrapping paper, and jewelry business chain make a killing. In the last decade, many of these sectors widened the February 14 net to include family and friends in the day’s celebration of love. With more than just romantic partners to shop for, the US National Retail Federation estimates that total spending for Valentine’s Day in 2023 will be $25.9 billion, up from $18.2 billion in 2017 and $16.9 billion in 2007. Fascinating!
I was almost 14 years old when I first heard about valentine’s day in a way that stuck. My class was agog with projections and whisperings of who would give who what and how the rest of the year could play out for valentine day couples. I took the contagious valentine’s day bug home. My mom was surprised. Ever the practical sensible nurse, she started a campaign that re-routed my thinking to higher contemplations of expressing love on a day dedicated to love. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could donate blood to someone you don’t know and will never know?” she asked slyly. “Especially since you prefer shots to pills?” “You won’t get a thank-you but you’ll feel good from knowing you saved a life.”
Over the next three weeks, she lit a fire in my heart with touching descriptors of how I could gift the life-giving red liquid that I had in abundance, because she knew she fed me well. She illustrated how donating to a stranger in need could capture the intent of the day better than my classmates’ plans. And I wasn’t even popular in my class, so planning my own valentine’s day could cushion a possible disappointment of getting left out. Beyond the prick of the needle, she was certain that I could make a bigger splash of red in the world by giving blood rather than in my little classroom. Her reasoning? The traditional proverb that “Love makes the world go round.”
I donated blood on February 14 that year. I was happy I did, but didn’t know how to share it with my classmates in a way that they would understand. Or even talk about it much afterwards lest my well-intentioned mom be misconstrued and mislabeled. She gave me a gift of thinking out of the box that year that I am still grateful for and have applied in other areas of life.
As I thought about the US National Retail Federation’s estimates on Valentine’s Day spending, I decided to dig more into the origins of Valentine’s Day.
History of Valentine’s Day
Overwhelming evidence trace the roots of Valentine’s Day to an Ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia celebrated from February 13-15. The festival dates back 2,000 years and was laced with pagan rituals.
Sometime later, in the third century, Emperor Claudius II reigned in Ancient Rome. He was a fearsome leader who sought to win wars at any cost. His subjects paid dearly for that desire, especially the young people. As wars raged, the emperor needed more soldiers for his army. He needed them in training at home and out in the battle fields. In a culture and era when families betrothed their children from infancy, many young men wanted to stay at home to enjoy the celebration and union with their beloved. Claudius considered this legitimate desire a distraction to be quashed, so he banned marriage to keep the young men of the empire focused on defence and security. No more weddings. No more new couples. No more excuses to prevent forceful drafts into the army and sent away from families, fiancées, or new wives.
Legend has it that an errant priest clandestinely conducted weddings for couples. His actions were a direct violation of the emperor’s ban but Father Valentine felt impelled to help formalize the union of couples in love. Not surprisingly, the priest’s defiance earned him the death sentence. He was executed on February 14. There are juicy add-ons about his having fallen in love with the head jailer’s daughter while on death row. Also, that in one of his last activities, he signed off his farewell letter to his beloved as “From your Valentine.” He was executed on February 14.
Sometime in the 5th Century, as Christianity spread, many found cultural practices of the time incompatible with the principles of Christianity as it spread through Europe. One such challenging practice was the Lupercalia festival, considered through the lens of Christianity to be a mix of the barbaric, horrendous, and downright creepy. By this time, the story of what Father Valentine did and died for—helping couples celebrate and formalize their love for each other—had survived multiple generations. His name was associated with love. His death was deemed a sacrifice for lovers.
History continues that by the late 5th Century, the church leaders realized that the annual Lupercalia festival was not going to be easy to eradicate. Ahead of the celebration in 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius I decided to Christianize the festival. The legend of the late Father Valentine provided a way out. He was canonized, which paved the way for the church to declare Saint Valentine the patron saint of lovers and change Lupercalia to Saint Valentine’s Day.
Twelve centuries have passed since that change. Some 21st Century Christians are not over the pagan roots and attempted Christianization of the festival. They would have nothing to do with anything about Valentine’s. Some devout adherents of other religions adopt a similar approach and steer clear of anything Valentine’s because of the involvement of Christians in parts of its history.
Leaving history, I also explored the concept of love through the lens of proverbs. It is one of the most common words in every language. It is versatile and encompassing of everyone and everywhere. So much so that families with the same DNA can grow in love while strangers can fall in love and enjoy its highest and deepest expressions in intimate and platonic ways. On the other hand, the use of the word “love” has become trite and its meaning sullied to the point that the fear of love is almost the beginning of wisdom.
What wisdom do proverbs offer us about love? I curated 15 love proverbs from my reflection.
A Polish proverb says that “Where there is love, there is happiness.” This is believable, similar to the observation of the Myanmar proverb that “Where there is love, there is peace.” Both proverbs capture the sentiments of the Chinese proverb: “For people who love, even water is sweet.” They also sum up the insights in the Burundian proverb that “Where there is love there is no darkness." Hence, you can conclude from the elders in those countries with this Lithuanian proverb that "A life without love is like a year without summer."
Yet, a Spanish proverb states that “Where there is love, there is pain.” As true as that is, take courage from the assurance in this Romanian proverb that “Love understands all languages” including the language of pain. Draw strength from the declaration in the Indian proverb that “It is love that makes the impossible possible.” Remember the wisdom of another Chinese proverb that "Love itself is calm; turbulence arrives from individuals." Act wisely.
In your search for love, accept the timeless wisdom in the traditional proverb that “Love can neither be bought or sold, its only price is love.” Take the challenge of this Turkish proverb to heart, that “Before you love, learn to run through snow without leaving footprints.” When you find love, don’t be surprised to find yourself acting as the English proverb summed up that: “There is no difference between a wise man and a fool when they fall in love.” However, determine to be the earlier reference in this Swedish proverb that “Love has produced some heroes but even more idiots.” When love finds you, remember the wisdom in the French Proverb that “Being loved is the best way of being useful.” And in all instances, act on the counsel in the Congolese proverb that “Love is like a baby: it needs to be treated tenderly.”
It is February 14, a day many have come to associate with love. There’s a lot to learn from the focus of the day, however imperfect its origins or the contemporary commercial efforts that shape it. I have drank deeply of love in many forms. Love truly makes the world go round. Love is a wonderful experience that is worth seeking, worth sharing, and worth celebrating. Valentine’s Day will be here for many more years into the future. Whenever and however you choose to focus on love, I hope you get to enjoy the fullness of its offerings in its most enduring forms. Well beyond this day. Long after the last red heart-shaped, valentine-themed item is pulled from store shelves.
You can feast on heart-shaped chocolate any time you want. You can dine at the finest restaurant whenever you feel like it. You can, and should enjoy picking or giving yourself flowers anytime you want to enjoy beauty and cheer. Whatever you’re going through now, cup your hands like in the image below. Look through the lens of love formed by your hands. The current silhouette of your circumstances may be dark but the sun can shine again. You are worthy of love and capable of loving.
So, here’s to you being your most authentic self in all your relationships. And to being the most loving, lovely, and lovable versions of yourself.
Which of the 16 proverbs in this post resonated more with you? Do you have a back story of why the proverb hit home that way? Share in the comments below.
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Know someone who could do with a reminder that “love makes the world go round” and each of us can find ways to be loving, lovable, and lovely wherever we are?
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