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February 2021 – Blog
“The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine;
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou’d be you”
(Gammer Gurton’s Garland; Collection of English nursery rhymes 1784)
There are probably just as many people who celebrate Valentine’s Day as do not. Highly commercialized in the United States, many other countries have similar and/or unique practices for their designated ‘day of love/friendship’. A quick check of Wikipedia turned into quite a lengthy and detailed read about this holiday/not holiday which is recognized in several religious denominations as, a “Saint’s Day”. Wikipedia’s experts explain this holiday’s origins evolved from vague historical records embellished with folklore. With Covid isolation continuing, and plenty of time, I began to investigate. If nothing else my findings would make for interesting ‘trivia’ which might come in handy when we once again gather around the water coolers or coffee pots. My ‘takeaway’ after reading this article was how different practices from a variety of places had merged with culture and historic traditions to change a day that commemorated martyrdom into a day commemorating love. I suppose it could be simply said, something good was made out of something bad.
- “Saint Valentine of Rome,(according to Wikipedia) was a widely recognized, third-century Roman priest or bishop who ministered to persecuted Christians. He was martyred and commemorated into Christianity on February 14” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine%27s_Day
I’m sure Saint Valentine never envisioned all that would evolve from legend and folklore following his death. And to be honest, I’m not quite sure how a holiday centered around romantic love emerged from what I can only imagine, was a terrible death? Most Americans (perhaps most of humanity) prefer stories with ‘happy endings’. We can watch the conflicts and hardships with the safe knowledge that all will end well. Invited along a story’s journey that may twist, turn, be uncomfortable or scary, we can watch secure in the safe assumption that goodness will prevail.
Tragedies implore us to search for reason; something good to come of life’s trials; to make sacrifices count and somehow justify their occurrence. The absence of a reason decimates any hope for understanding why tragedies happen, and the removal of hope embodies the very definition of tragedy.
Historic theories compensate for a lack of facts as time passes; filling in missing details and recreating possible answers or plausible stories. But where hypotheses fail, folklore thrives. Perhaps the seed for this holiday came from the love Valentine showed in helping those persecuted for their beliefs? The scant details of ‘Saint Valentine of Rome’ when combined with legend provides some clues for how a tragedy transformed into the holiday we recognize today.
- “Saint Valentine [is said to have] restored sight to the blind daughter of his jailer. Numerous later additions to the legend have better related it to the theme of love: An 18th-century embellishment to this legend claims he wrote the jailer’s daughter [and signed] ”Your Valentine” as a farewell before his execution.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine%27s_Day
So, did the chicken come before the egg, or the egg come before the chicken? Did someone create this legend of a blind girl, healed and the signed farewell letter to somehow romanticize the tragic story of Saint Valentine? Did this folklore then spread and grow to possess correspondence formerly known as love-notes, and somehow tributize them; initiating the evolution into the now familiar, “Valentine?”
I began to sense some answers, but desire sought a more concise link. While not a precise roadmap through history -reaching my ‘tying-everything-up-in-a-tidy-bow’ ideal- the following dates and information did help explain how this tragedy-turned-holiday might have come about.
“According to legend, in order “to remind these men of their vows and God’s love, Saint Valentine is said to have cut hearts from parchment”, giving them to these soldiers and persecuted Christians…” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine%27s_Day
FROM ST. VALENTINE TO VALENTINE’S DAY
[Information for the following time line comes from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine%27s_Day]
496 AD – St. Valentine of Rome is martyred then buried at a Christian Cemetery February 14th.
1382 – Geoffrey Chaucer’s writings – the first recorded association of St. Valentine’s Day with romantic love.
1400 – The Charter Of The Court Of Love – earliest description of February 14 as an annual celebration of love.
“…allegedly issued by Charles VI of France at Mantes-la-Joli …describing lavish festivities…attending ladies would hear and rule on disputes, competitions, jousting and dancing…disputes from lovers…none of those named in the charter were in attendance except Charles’s queen… who may well have imagined it all while waiting out the plague…”
- We break away from this historical moment to bring you this important thought: If these events were only the’ Queen’s fantasy’, confined in Covid isolation throughout much of 2020, I can certainly understand and appreciate this lady’s imagination! Now back to our history lesson:
1477 – The Paston Letters, by Margery Brewes to her future husband John Paston, “My right well-beloved Valentine”
1600-1601 Valentine’s Day is mentioned ruefully by Ophelia in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”:
“Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day, all in the morning betime. And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine” (act 4, Scene 5, pg. 3).
1797 – The young Man’s Valentine Writer – published in Britain [to help those at a loss for words]
‘Mechanical Valentines – a limited number of cards with verses & sketches are printed & sold.
Over 3000 women employed making paper Valentines in England’s factories. Dickens terms it: “Cupids Manufactory”
1835 – 60,000 Valentine Cards sent by post in the United Kingdom, despite the expense.
1840 – Reduced postal rates & invention of the postage stamp increased Valentine mailings to 400,000
1847 – The first mass-produced Valentines of embossed paper & lace- made and sold by Esther Howland [in the USA].
1868 – The British chocolate company, Cadbury creates Fancy Boxes – a decorated box of chocolates in the shape of a heart for Valentine’s Day.
OOOH Chocolate! [but I digress]. Seeing the information presented chronologically, the marriage and evolution between myth and sketchy fact -transforming martyrdom to holiday- becomes more clear.
“While the European folk traditions connected with Saint Valentine and St. Valentine’s Day have become marginalized by the modern Anglo-American customs connecting the day with romantic love, there are some remaining associations connecting the saint with the advent of spring.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine%27s_Day
Some might argue against listing Valentine’s Day as a ‘good’ to come from a ‘bad’. There is some push back to Valentine’s Day. Not to a day commemorating love, but towards the ‘day of couples’ with its resulting 360 degrees of pressure and the manufactured expectations surrounding it. Merchants and Advertising have alienated many individuals, throwing some into the unwanted spotlight of society’s ‘member of the club’ expectations, or sadly reminding them of something they might desire but are not currently able to participate in. Despite this push back’s gaining strength, it hasn’t diminished the market or popularity for celebrating. And, while not every country celebrates Valentine’s Day in accordance with a Western/European model, many have some commemorative day devoted to love. Here are a few different examples of how some countries celebrate similar events on various days throughout the year
The following information was found at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine%27s_Day
NORFOLK, ENGLAND – “Jack” Valentine knocks on the rear door of houses leaving sweets & presents for children .
COSTA RICA, MEXICO, Dia de los Enamorados (Day of lovers) or Dia del Amor y la Amistad (Day of Love and Friendship) people perform “acts of appreciation” for their friends.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC– Amigo secreto (Secret Friend) similar to the Christmas tradition of Secret Santa.
BRAZIL – The absence of Valentine’s Day, due to the celebrations of the Carnivals, made U.S News & World Report recommend Brazil as a tourist designation in February for Western singles wanting to escape the holiday.
JAPAN – February 14th -Office ladies give chocolate to their male co-workers. March 14th “ Men give white chocolates to those who gave them chocolate on Valentine’s day. Romantic Date night, associated to Valentine’s Day, is celebrated on Christmas Eve.
PHILIPPINES – Araw ng mga Puso, celebrated much the same as in the West, marked by a steep increase in the price of flowers, particularly red roses. [Like the USA] it is the most popular day for weddings. [Unlike the USA] many venues will perform the ceremony free of charge.
SOUTH KOREA – Women give chocolate to men on February 14 and men give non-chocolate to women on March 14. On April 14 those who did not receive anything in February or March go to a restaurant and eat black noodles.
FINLAND & ESTONIA – “Friends Day” is more about remembering friends vs. significant others. [a great way for everyone to celebrate, not just couples]
PORTUGAL – “Dia dos Namorados” (Lover’s Day / Day of the Enamoured) Couples exchange gifts and in some regions, women give a “Lovers’ handkerchief” embroidered with love motifs.
The origins of the word, “Holiday” are explained as coming from Old English for ‘Holy Day’. It meant both “religious festival” and a “day of exemption from labor and recreation” https://www.etymonline.com/ And, just as language, it has evolved to describe special occasions celebrated nationally, or locally.
Holidays -historically as now- break up the monotony of daily life as well as help us navigate where we are in the calendar year. Like spice to a recipe, tastes for them differ. Some will celebrate and others will ignore, but they exist nonetheless through good times and difficult times. We are familiar with the difficulty; some extremely so. And for those who feel hope is gone, perhaps this Valentine’s Day can be a bit more significant.
Find a way to express your appreciation for friends, family, all those you care about, all those you love. Life is short, there are no guarantees, and what really matters to us, can’t be replaced. Reconnect with kindness.
Sometimes the most significant thing you can tell someone is “I care.” Whether that thought comes verbally, virtually, or on a parchment paper heart with glue and glitter still dripping. I think that’s what Saint Valentine would have wanted.