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Monday, February 13, 2012

Hearts and Flowers and Cupid, Oh My

Valentine's Day is a major event in the romance world, and wherever you find romance readers and authors, you're going to find all those standard symbols of the holiday that have also become symbols of the genre. Hearts. Flowers. Cupid. Chocolate.

Absolutely none of which seem to have any connection to a day supposedly devoted to a martyred Roman saint, yet St. Valentine's Day originally derives from the medieval liturgical calendar. Even worse, the Catholic historians don't know much about the first St. Valentine, (or the other 13 or so saints of the same name) other than that he was buried on Feb. 14 and marked as martyred. So why is he the patron of lovers?

Chaucer seems to be the one who put the pieces together. It's not that Valentine, or any of the miscellaneous saints named Valentine, were particularly involved with romantic love. (Awkward, it might have been, seeing as most of them were priests.) No, it's just the fact that mid-February was when things started happening in the natural world--or at least that of England and France. In Parliament of Foules, Chaucer wrote:

For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.

Ah, now, it begins to make sense. Valentine is just the lucky saint whose day coincides with the natural occurrence Disney's Bambi called "Twitterpated." Got it. Now about that symbolism...

Cupid or Eros, as the god of love, is a pretty obvious choice: he stands for romance, and all that mushy goodness. And, boy, some of the Renaissance and Regency images of Cupid and Psyche are SMOKING hot! (This one by Benjamin West is dated 1808.) Despite our modern ideas about the purity of our ancestors, Valentine's Day, historically at least, is about the more physical aspects of love, as well as the ever-after side.

So we've got Mr. Bad-Boy Cupid. Why hearts? (And why do we use a symbol for a heart that bears almost no resemblance to the real thing?) Why flowers, particularly roses? And what about chocolate...never mind, I get that one. Sweets for the sweet, and all that. And let's not forget that it's been considered an aphrodisiac from ancient times in South America.

The symbol we use for the heart is so familiar, we use it as an ideogram to replace the word love. In fact, it's been around at least since the middle ages. Some researchers claim it's a combination of early symbols for fire and togetherness. Others have a far more graphic idea--it does kind of look like the tip of a penis, or possibly a woman's backside. So we'll probably never know exactly where the symbol came from, but possibly from a very earthy expression of love--not the Platonic kind. Hmm. Valentine's day has a dark side, doesn't it? As far as using the heart to represent love, that idea is probably for the same reason we say things like "the heart of the matter." It was simply the most obvious vital organ in the body, the strongest muscle, and located at the core. Therefore, to the medieval mind, the heart, and not the brain symbolized the very essence of a living being. Not to mention, it pumps blood and blood is what allows all those naughty bits to plump up when we want them. It also beats a lot faster when we're aroused. See? More symbolic sex.

Well, how about flowers? Those are sweet, right? Sorry. Flowers, quite simply, epitomize spring and the renewal of life. So more biology here! All that pollination going on. It was our Victorian ancestors who imbued a variety of flowers with special meanings.  The following list and the rose images on this post are from a very cool site called Love of Roses. This orange one is nice and steamy.
  • Red: Red is the symbol of love. To give red roses says "I love you still"
  • White: Shows purity and innocence. They also represent humility, youthfulness and charm.
  • Blue: Unobtainable, impossible love.
  • Pink: To give pink roses shows grace, joy, and gratitude. Pale pink also has the meaning of fun attached to it.
  • Orange: Desire and enthusiasm. These would be a great choice to give to someone if you want the relationship to develop further.
  • Yellow: Joy and friendship - yellow roses don't specifically show love. They can also represent starting over,or a new beginning. Yellow tipped with red shows friendship falling in love.
  • Brown: Earth or wood. They can also mean friendship or appreciation.
  • Purple: Enchantment, mystery, or royalty.
The number of roses also matters. And so many other flowers have special meanings as well. Have some fun and give someone a bouquet that says something special!

Oh, and by the way, the whole innundate-your-loved ones with cards thing? NOT an invention of Hallmark. No, this one again, goes back at least to the Victorians. Some of the valentines created in that era are pretty amazing. A few of them are even a little risque.

So there you go. Some sexy Valentine's Trivia to tuck away and amaze your friends. And if you're in the mood for a little something steamy, don't forget to check out Valentine's Heart, one of my Holiday Heart series out now from Ellora's Cave. Just as my Valentine to you, I'm offering a free download of Val and Cora's story to one random commenter. Winner will be drawn some time Feb. 14. (Leave me a way to contact you, please!)

Happy Valentine's Day!


flchen1 said...

Wow, Cindy, how fun! I didn't know that Valentine's Day cards went back so far! So it isn't just some tradition dreamed up by Hallmark to torment us parents (who have to oversee our kids' scribbling them out for every kid in their classes) ;)

But hey, I can get behind a reason for chocolate and gifting chocolate any day :D

Hope you enjoy some time with your loved ones, Cindy!

f dot chen at comcast dot net

Harlie Reader said...

Great post Cindy. Thanks for the information on the color of roses. For some reason, I always forget what they mean.

Happy day to you and yours.

Marika Weber

Vicki Batman said...

Everyone always says Hallmark created Valentines; so I'm glad to know that wasn't true. I'd forgotten about the flowers except for red. Pink is my fav.

I still have my 4th grade valentine box and featured it in a story. lol

Liz said...

I'm in the "meh" contingent for Valentine's day but this post was fun and informative!

Maria said...

Loved the post, I had read a little bit about the color of roses and the significance but didn't not the whole thing so that link is great.
Thanks for all of the info and the giveaway.

ringpop2010 at gmail dot com

bag'o'marbles said...

Loved it. I adore anything that explains where a tradition started how it flourished. Thank you

bag'o'marbles said...

Oops...forgot contact info

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

Thanks everyone. Liz, it's not a big day for us, either. The dh calls it "amateur hour." But the history is a little more interesting than the reality, at least to me. And I love finding sex in history!

Molly Daniels said...

Hahaha Vicki....I still have the valentine my 4th grade 'boyfriend' gave me:)

Yeah; I've only had one or two good Valentine's Days, but I try to make the day special for my kids:)

And I LOVE roses, esp the yellow ones, my fave color:)

Molly Daniels said...

Oops...hit 'publish' too know how to get a hold of me....

Paris said...

I loved the post and all of the fun facts about Valentine's Day! I plan on showing hubby next time he grumbles about Hallmark, lol:)

jean hart stewart said...

Fascinating post. Didn't know half of that and loved the sexy dragon!! Thanks for all your research!

Katalina said...

Great post Cindy, Happy Valentine's Day!

Shelley Munro said...

Interesting post. LOL I must be one of the few people who ignores Valentine's day. It's not really a big celebration here in New Zealand.

Janice Seagraves said...

You put a lot of mean to everything you posted today. Good job on the research. I feel like I understand Valentines day a lot better now. :)


Sandy said...

What a fun blog, Cindy. I really enjoyed it.

Jacki C. said...

The story looks great. Thanks for the Valentine's Day quiz.



Nina Pierce said...

I knew most of Valentine history is more risque than people realize. But there were several facts in there I didn't know. And put Mr. Nina and I in the category of quiet night at home watching television. (Though it is always nice when he surprises me with flowers ... I do love a spring bouquet.)

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I think you've encapsulated the mission of this blog and our challenge.

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

Thanks for the great comments, everyone! Jacki C is my winner!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Cara Marsi said...

Very interesting blog. Loved all the facts. And that Benjamin West picture is hot, hot. It could grace the cover of any number of erotic romances.

V-Day is pretty much a meh day for me too.

Stormie Kent said...

Great blog. I think most holidays that old have gotten a bit muddled in the "true" tradition department. I say just have a little fun with it.

Adele Dubois said...

Great post, Cindy! It was fun to read. I hope you enjoy your day!


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