Valentine’s day hasn’t been about Valentines since I was three years old. That was the year my little sister was born on, you guessed it, February 14th. I was only just grasping the concept of cards, candy and balloons when Natalie arrived in the world. I remember my dad lifting me up to peer into the nursery window at all the newborns.
“Which one?” I asked, gazing at several rows of babies.
“The one with the heart on her cheek.” A nurse had placed a sticker there to identify her as a Valentine’s day baby. From that moment on, the day was hers.
Not to say we didn’t celebrate the day of love. I still had the valentine parties at school and the general excitement of picking out valentines for classmates. In third grade I made my first real valentine for a boy instead of giving him the usual store bought card. I didn’t sign it and when he discovered it in his bag, the rest of the class spent the entire party trying to deduce who gave it to him. I denied I made it several times and stewed in my embarrassment. That was about as far as that romance ever got.
Still, Valentine’s Day always involved a birthday celebration. So it wasn’t too much of a surprise, or a disappointment, when I met my husband and discovered his birthday was also on Valentine’s Day. God must have been preparing me from the age of three for that one. My husband likes to insist that Valentine’s Day is the day everyone celebrates his birthday.
Why do we have this arbitrary day in February to fuel the greeting card, candy and flower industry in an effort to express love?
The history of Valentine’s day is somewhat murky. There are up to a dozen saints named Valentine. Several Valentines were martyred – the opposite of what you’d expect for a day celebrating love. One of the earliest stories centers around a priest who performed weddings for soldiers who’d been forbidden to marry by Emperor Claudius. Kind of romantic until the part of the story where he’s executed.
Some also trace the origin of the day to the Roman fertility festival Lupercalia. After sacrificing a goat, Roman priests would strip the goat skin, dip it in the blood and walk the streets, where women would wait for the priests to touch them with the goatskins to increase their fertility. A nice, romantic tradition, right?
Later on, Chaucer seemed to have a hand in popularizing the day when he wrote a poem called Parliament of Fowls and featured birds finding their mates on St. Valentine’s day. Other poets picked up the theme, then Shakespeare included it in several of his works. So you can blame writers for having a hand in romanticizing the day.
In the Victorian era, sending Valentine letters became popular, and soon these turned into more elaborate cards that could be sent by mail. And so we reach modern day, where we’re bombarded by companies selling cards, candy, balloons, flowers, jewelry and dinners, all in the name of love.
But February 14th is just as good a day to celebrate love as any other. So Happy Valentine’s Day, no matter why you’re celebrating or with whom. Enjoy the chocolates, cards and other tokens of love.
“Birthday Cake” courtesy of tiverylucky, “Love Concept Background” courtesy of hyena reality, and “Victorian Love Letter”courtesy of Simon Howden, all at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Geoffrey Chaucer and Saint Valentine used under Creative Common License.