February 14th is Valentine's Day. On that day, I will often buy my wife flowers; other times I will purchase a card or a small gift. I rarely spend a lot of money, since it doesn't take a lot of money to express an appropriate thought.
At one time I thought that Candy would be a good gift. I presented my wife with a beautifully wrapped box of chocolates. It was big; it was expensive, and it had all sorts of mouth-watering creams, nougats, and nuts. I liked the idea of giving her chocolates since I knew that my wife would feel obligated to share her candy with me.
My wife started to unwrap the box, and then I opened my mouth.
"Was it Dorothy Parker that wrote: Girls who eat lots of sweets, will soon develop larger seats?"
My wife gave me a dark look and replied: "I think it was Ogden Nash who wrote that rhyme. You know that I can't eat chocolate. Chocolate gives me migraines."
So ended, what I thought would be a romantic Valentine's Day moment; this was the last time that I ever brought her candy.
Valentine's Day traditionally is a time for a mutual exchange of love notes decorated with heart-shaped outlines and drawings of doves and winged cupids. Economically, it is a boon to the flower, candy, and greeting card industry. Today, most Valentine cards are just another type of greeting card rather than a declaration of love. Wikipedia states that The US Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion valentines are sent each year worldwide, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, behind Christmas.
"Hey Claudia" I snarked. "Did you know that Valentine's Day is nothing but an ancient pagan holiday?"
"No it isn't," said my wife. "In AD 270, the Roman emperor Claudius II issued an edict forbidding marriage. The emperor thought that married men made poor soldiers. He based his decision on the belief that people don't like to leave their families in order to go to battle. Valentine rebelled and secretly started conducting marriages. He violated the Emperor's edict and because of what he did, was arrested and martyred."
"Pooh" said I.
"It's true," replied Claudia. "Emperor Claudius was impressed by Valentine and had a discussion with him. He gave Valentine a chance to save his life by converting to paganism. Valentine refused, and in turn, tried to convert Claudius to Christianity. You don't preach to emperors and Claudius had Valentine executed.
Legend has it, that right before St. Valentine was executed, he restored the eyesight of his jailers' blind daughter. I was told a story that he was in love with this girl and on the evening before he was to be executed wrote her a love note signed "From your Valentine.""
I snorted: "blah! There was more than one Bishop Valentine, there were at least three, and February 14th was a pagan holiday, the feast of Lupercus, the Roman God of the wolves. During Lupercalia, Romans would also honor the goddess Juno Februata. The names of young women were put into a box and then drawn by lot. Young people were matched this way and would be considered partners for the year. For some reason the church fathers didn't approve of Lupercalia. Lupercalia was replaced with Valentines Day. The Church still kept the idea of men drawing names, but instead of girls' names, they would draw the names of saints. People that drew a saints name would then be expected to emulate that saint for an entire year."
My wife grinned. "You mean do something that would get you flayed alive?"
I chuckled "You don't have to be a saint for that to happen. I think people were expected to help travelers, give to the poor, be kind to animals, and do loving and virtuous things."
I continued. "The church eventually forgot about drawing Saints names, and people went back to their old pagan ways of sending love notes.
My wife snorted: "Sending love notes isn't pagan, it's nice."
"If you say so," I replied. " February 14th used to be dedicated to the marriage of the pagan gods Jupiter and Juno. No one knows much about Saint Valentine; but in 1969, the Catholic Church even removed the Feast Day of St. Valentine from their calendar of Saints."
My wife shook her finger. "I like the idea of Valentine's Day, and I think that love notes are nice."
"You're not alone. The card, flowers and candy industries love them as well." I smirked
"According to *Leo Wierzbowski, as Christianity spread. So did the Valentine's Day card."
My wife asked: "Who is *Leo Wierzbowski?"
I put on a serious expression: "Some guy who works and maintains a web page at the University of Florida."
"One of the earliest Valentine cards was sent by Charles, duke of Orleans, in 1415, to his wife, while he was imprisoned in the tower of London. The card is now in the British Museum.
In the 1500's a Bishop attempted to wean people away from sending cards and reinstated a lottery of saints names. For some reason, this never caught on, and cards started becoming more and more popular. In the early 19th century printers started producing cards with verses and sketches on them. They were called 'Mechanical Valentines.' It became quite popular to use the mail to deliver these 'mechanical' messages of love. One might call this a 'Hallmark moment in Western history.'"
My wife looked at me: "Are you going to send me a card?"
I looked into her blue eyes and said: "Wouldn't you rather have chocolates?"
"Just remember," threatened my wife; "A person gets what he gives, and what goes around comes around."
You know, my wife is very wise.
Have a wonderful February, and be sure to send something to your sweetie on Valentines Day.
Bill loves letters, and you can write to him or leave a note at the Valley Bugler website. http://www.valleybugler.com
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