Valentine’s Day Stuff

Valentine’s Day was once better known as St. Valentine’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Valentine, a Christian holiday that commemorated one or more early saints named Valentinus. The are several martyrdom stories for the figure associated with the holiday, the most famous being that of Saint Valentine of Rome. There are many variations of this story that more or less have the same theme.

According to legend, he was imprisoned and sentenced to death for performing weddings for soldiers, who were forbidden to marry. While in prison, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius, whom he fell in love with. Before his execution he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell, which presumably inspired the tradition of sending cards to loved ones. While it has no historical basis — for example, soldiers were never forbidden to marry — it was nonetheless an engaging story. (Valentine’s Day is still celebrated among some Christian sects and circles.)

February 14th was was first associated with romantic love during the High Middle Ages, as first recorded in the Parlement of Foules (1382) by Geoffrey Chaucer. During this time, the practice of courtly love became popular; this was a presumably chivalrous expression of love and admiration that was usually practiced in secret between members of the nobility (note that it was generally not practiced between husband and wife).

Like most holidays, it was during the Industrial Era — namely 18th-century England — that modern Valentine Day as we know it emerge. By then, it had evolved into an occasion in which people expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”). Many of the symbols used today — such as heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid — became popular around know. While handwritten notes were once the norm, they soon gave way to mass-produced valentines cards, which were first produced and sold in the United States in 1847 by Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts (they were made of embossed paper lace).

According to a 2010 study by the U.S. Greeting Card Association (yes, that’s a real thing) approximately 190 million valentines are sent annually in the U.S., half of which are given to family members other than a husband or wife, usually to children. If you include the valentine-exchange cards made in school activities, the number goes up to 1 billion, with teachers receiving the most valentines.

As for the iconic heart shape associated with Valentine’s Day (and love in general), that too seems to have its earliest origins in the High Middle Ages, beginning in the 15th century and becoming popular in the 16th century onward. Here’s the first known depiction of the heart shape, from the mid-13th century French manuscript, Roman de la poire:

There are various theories as to the origin of the shape, none of which are definitive: hypotheses include that it’s the shape of the seed of the silphium plant, used in ancient times as an herbal contraceptive; or stylized depictions of features of the human female body, such as the female’s buttocks, pubic mound, or spread vulva.

Anyway, you all have a happy Valentine’s Day. I’ve got no significant other to spend it with, but I do have a great singles-party to enjoy, complete with a party bus and nightclub destination! 😀 Whatever your plans, have a great one my loyal readers.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Remember only this of our hopeless love
That never till Time is done
Will the fire of the heart and the fire of the mind be one.
~Edith Sitwell

In many countries, such as Finland and Estonia, Valentine’s Day is actually called “Friend’s Day,” and it is a time to celebrate all of your loved ones, romantic or otherwise. After several years of solitude (not all of it voluntary), I’m very grateful for having an exceptional person like Vivian in my life. But I also take this occasion to rejoice in all the wonderful people who have enriched my life. Cheers to all of you, from pleasant acquaintances to trusted confidants, for making my life so much better! I wish the best of luck to all your current – and still pending – relationships!

It’s still disputed as to where the traditional “heart shape” came from. One suggestion is that it’s based on the seed of the silphium plant, which was used in ancient times as an herbal contraceptive. Another suggestion is that it represents the features of the human female body, such as an idealized female buttocks, vaginal area, or a spread vulva. Less erotically, it could also be derived from the shape made by swans necks during their courting ritual.

Interestingly, the inverted heart symbol has sometimes been used in medieval heraldry to represent stylized testicles, too.

As for the origins, like most Western holidays, Valentine’s Day has its origins in Christianity, namely the Catholic Church. And like most holidays, its link to the past—namely to its origins—is tenuous and mostly mysterious. The term Valentine, in its original Latin Valentinus, derives from the key word Valens, meaning ‘worthy.’ It was a relatively popular name among in olden times, including with Saints. The Church, however, had at least a dozen St. Valentines that it officially recognized until 1969, when he probably figured they could stand to shed a few. The men associated with the date February 14th, Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Temi, were martyred for their faith but beyond that neither had any known romantic element in their lives or death. It would seem that like most holidays, namely Halloween and Christmas, the various traditions and themes associated with Valentine’s Day would turn out to be Industrial-era additions added either for commercial reasons or even for the very hell of it.

However, during my research I came upon one possible lead: the Legenda Sanctorum, also known as the Legenda Aurea: the Golden Legend. Though it sounds like some Lovecraftian occult tome, it is actually an embellished collection of hagiographies: biographies of Saints, written around the year 1260 and added upon much in following years. Now to be honest, it’s inconclusive how factual this may have been and it could very well be made up, but it makes for an interesting and compelling story (besides, most holiday myths are, well, just that!).

Anyway, in it, there is mention of another St. Valentine whose full name is unknown. He lived during the short reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II, around the third century AD. Apparently, Claudius II issued a decree banning young men from marrying, believing that doing so would bolster the ranks of his army since he felt single men made better and more willing soldiers, i.e. they don’t have a family to live for so it makes for fearlessness, so his logic apparently goes. Valentine, then a priest – Rome was gradually becoming Christianized – ignored the law for the sake of love and arranged marriages for young men in secret.

When this was found out, he was arrested, thrown in jail, and sentenced to death. During this time, it was said he remained a loving and patient man, even trying to convert Claudius to Christianity – though it failed, and by some accounts led him to finally be executed. He also befriended and fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, who by some accounts was blind until he healed her. The day he was to be executed, February 14th, he wrote a letter to her, professing all his love and admiration…and it began with the famous words: “From your Valentine…”

Another origin story for Valentine’s Day involves the Christianization of the Greco-Roman festival known as Lupercalia, an ancient pagan holiday celebrated around February 14th or so. It supposedly involved either fertility, shepherds, or  both.

You can read more about the origin’s from the History Channel’s website. Either way, I wish you a happy one, whatever it means to you.