Wouldn’t you love somebody to love? You’d better find somebody to love!
Grace Slick, from Jefferson Airplane
And now, for a short history of St. Valentine….
There are a couple of stories of St. Valentine’s origins; in one he was a Roman priest during the reign of Claudius II. In the other, he was a Bishop in Umbria, Italy. In the first he was caught for marrying Christian couples, and for aiding Christians who were being persecuted by the Romans at that time. He was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers, who were strictly forbidden to marry. Emperor Claudius liked his prisoner, until Valentinus tried to convert him, and the priest was condemned to death.
In the second, Valentinus was under house arrest by a Judge Asterius. He alledgedly restored the Judge’s adopted daughter’s sight, a miracle! In reward, he was sent to the Emperor Claudius who took a liking to him until Valentinus tried to convert him. In both stories, poor Valentinus ended up beaten with clubs and stones, then beheaded. The date was February 14, 269 AD.
Another story: Our modern Valentine cards may have originated in the Middle Ages with the custom of men drawing the names of single girls in the village to couple with them, and serve them for a year. This custom was combated by the priests and replace by the religious custom of girls drawing the names of Apostles from the altar.
The first recorded association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love is in the late 1300’s by Geoffrey Chaucer, when he wrote a poem to honor the coming marriage of King Richard II of England, and Anne of Bohemia in May of 1381. They were each 15!
Valentine’s Day is mentioned by Edmund Spenser in his epic The Faerie Queen (1590), by Shakespeare in Hamlet (1601) and in a collection of nursery rhymes from 1784:
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 should be you.
Notice the reference to drawing names? (Out of a hat? Or a crockery jar?)
The reinvention of Saint Valentine’s Day in the mid-1800’s in England has been traced by Leigh Eric Schmidt who observed, “Saint Valentine’s Day is becoming, nay it has become, a national holyday!” The first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced for sale around 1847 by Esther Howland of Massachussets. Miss Howland sold her company to the Geo. C. Whitney Co. in 1881.
Since 2001 the greeting Card Association has given an “Esther Howland Award for a Greeting Card Visionary.” Appproximately 190 million valentines are sent each year, and an estimated 15 million e-valentines were sent in 2010.
I’ve always found it odd that a matryred saint, and the custom of being drawn as a slave for a year, could evolve into a commercialized industry in which people feel pressured to have a Valentine for the day. Pressured to remember to buy your Valentine flowers or chocolate. To feel guilty if you forget, or don’t want to make a fuss about it. Or, worst of all, to think it means something about you if you don’t have a Valentine. The only thing you need today is to love yourself! Actually, it would be nice if we would all do that everyday!
In closing, I want to share an old, and very odd, Valentine card that I found. Can’t imagine either giving or receiving it! (It, (of course) pre-dates “50 Shades of Grey” but the sentiment would do it justice.)
Do with it what you will….