Column, Looking Back

Looking Back: Valentine’s Day

By Mary Ellen Shaw

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner! It is a day devoted to love, and as one would expect, the majority of greeting cards are romantic. Some are funny and others simply wish you a “Happy Valentine’s Day.” You can come up with your own meaning for those words!

Since Year No. 1 of almost 45 years of marriage my husband and I have both been consistent in looking for a humorous card with some words of love mixed in. No mushy verses for us!

The older I get the more curious I seem to be about the history of things. So, naturally, I set out to learn the history of Valentine’s Day. I quickly found out that there are several different versions.

One theory is that the day began as Saint Valentine’s Day in the Catholic Church. It was added to the liturgical calendar by Pope Gelasius around 500 A.D. As one might expect that day commemorated martyred saints named Valentine. I found reference to three different saints with that name. We are left to guess if the day honored just one, and if so which one, or all three? It became a moot point in 1969 when the feast day was removed from the Catholic calendar.

One of the “Valentines” restored the eyesight to the daughter of the jailer who held him captive. He supposedly wrote a letter to the girl before his execution and signed it “Your Valentine.” A nice story but no romance there!

Another “Valentine” was St. Valentine of Terni who supposedly heard two lovers quarrelling and offered them a rose. He told them to hold it between their hands without getting pricked by its thorns. They managed to do that and shortly after asked him to marry them. Now there is a bit of romance!

The third “Valentine” was a Roman priest who performed weddings for soldiers forbidden to marry because it was believed that married soldiers were not good warriors. This St. Valentine wore a ring with Cupid on it – a symbol of love. The soldiers recognized him by his ring. He also handed out paper hearts to remind Christians of their love for God. Now that speaks of romance and the custom is similar to what is done today.

Moving along to the year 1381 when medieval author Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a poem that spoke of love and romantic partnership with another person.  During this era the word “valentine” when used in poetry or music described a lover.

By the mid 19th century paper Valentine cards were being mass produced and Valentine’s Day as we know it had arrived. A card company that later became Hallmark got the jump on that holiday.

There is also an entirely different twist to the history of Valentine’s Day. This event was not a pretty one. It is known as the Valentine’s Day Massacre. Back in the Prohibition days of 1929 seven men were killed in Chicago on February 14 by a gang organized by Al Capone. No romance in that memory for this particular holiday!

The bottom line is that Valentine’s Day can be whatever we want it to be. There are no rules in this era.

In the early grades at Christ the King School in Rutland we always had a Valentine’s party. Our parents would buy a package of valentines with enough for every student in our class. We were kept busy printing the names of our classmates on the envelopes and signing our names. An afternoon party sent all of us home “hyped up” on sugar from our sweet treats.

As an adult I am a lover of tradition and look forward to whatever comes my way on the 14th. After 45 years of doing this my husband knows the routine. If there is chocolate coming my way I am a happy camper!

Whether it’s with a card, dinner out, flowers or chocolate it’s the perfect day to do something to “celebrate” the one you love.

P.S. You can thank me for reminding you about Valentine’s Day…just in case all the ads haven’t gotten your attention!

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