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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Be Mine

I've heard Valentine's Day called a "Hallmark Holiday," by someone who assumed the celebration was a modern invention, mainly meant to sell greeting cards. In fact, it's much older. How old, we don't really know. There are theories.

The early Christian churches recognized at least three martyred saints called Valentinus or some variant of the name. None of those were particularly romantic in nature, but may have been put on Saint's Day calendar, giving us the name. Another theory is that the Chur
ch at this time slipped Saint Valentine's Day in as a way to stop the Romans from celebrating the pagan holiday of Lupercalia, which involved naked young men, sacrificed goats, and other mating and fertility rites. Despite the obvious seasonal and thematic overlap, there's no actual historical evidence for this as a direct predecessor.

The earliest written reference to the romantic holiday come from the 14th century, when Chaucer wrote a poem called Parlement of Foules. (This is about FOWLS, or birds, not FOOLS in modern English) "For this was on seynt Volantynys day. Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.” Apparently bird-mating season brought about similar behavior in humans. In 1415, a French nobleman imprisoned in the Tower of London wrote to his wife in France, calling her his "very gentle Valentine." Even Shakespeare brings it up, when Ophelia calls herself Hamelet's CalentineObviously by this point in time, the holiday was well and truly entrenched, without a greeting card in sight.

The Victorians, of course, were into all things sentimental. Before cards were the big seller, there were flowers, of course, and other holdovers from romance past, such as locks of hair and love tokens. Love tokens were coins, often silver, that had been modified by carving in of initials, wearing off mint marks, and sometimes drilling holes so they could be worn on chains or ribbons. In Victorian times, hair locks were often made into elaborate artwork or even jewelry. For a new lover, though, tucking a small snippet of hair in a locket might be enough of a symbol.

Less expensive printing and mailing brought about the rise of the Valentine card, at first a single sheet that could then be folded and addressed without a separate envelope. No longer did you have to write some love-poetry, you could buy it ready-made on a colorful backdrop. Amercan card companies followed suit. Chocolates, long the preserve of the very wealthy, also became mass-produced in this era and ran advertizing campaigns linking them with Valentines as an appropriate romantic gift. At the higher end of the price spectrum, jewelers went even further, selling the very best gems to the very best (or at least richest) lovers. Today, in the developed world it is a massive marketing and merchandising season.

Other kinds of love and affection also get some attention, especially among a younger audience. My first grade granddaughter is bringing them for her class, while I have fond memories of Valentine stuffed animals from my father, and a snitched treasure from the big candy heart he brought my mom. I hope that whomever you love brings you a special Valentine, whether it's diamonds or a kiss, a hand-drawn card or warm hug. Love, in all its forms, is worth the celebration.


Vicki Batman, sassy writer of funny fiction said...

Very interesting and lots of history I'd not heard before. Thanks for sharing and happy V-Day!

Debby said...

I love the history of Valentine's Day. It is so fascinating. I did get some nice chocolates from my hubby.
debby236 at hotmail dot com from USA

ELF said...

I've gotten away from cards...they're expensive and then there's the question of what to do with them my already cluttered house, lol. Hope you had a lovely Valentine's or Galentine's Day!

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