Valentine’s Day is one of those days where true love takes over, and all things chocolate, flowers, cards, romantic dinners and gifts are on our minds. Well, most of our minds. I could do without the chocolate and my cats eat my flowers. But I do love gifts and romantic dinners. Have you ever wondered, though, what Valentine’s Day is all about?
It’s said that this festival for lovers had its origin with Emperor Claudius II, who didn’t want Roman men to marry during wartime because marriage distracted them from their killing. Bishop Valentine, an Anglican and a right romantic gent, went against Claud’s wishes and performed secret weddings. For that, Valentine was jailed. While there, he wrote a note to the jailer’s daughter, signing it “from your Valentine.” He got caught, and was beheaded the next day–on February 14, sometime near the year 270.
It wasn’t until the 14th century, though, that the date February 14 became linked to romantic intentions, largely thanks to the tradition of courtly love, which abounded in the circles of Geoffrey Chaucer. Still, it took another 4 centuries before the day became about gifts, and candy and all those other things we typically think about.
And just an aside here–about 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year. Whether or not it’s true, the first Valentine’s Day card may have been a love letter from Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Makes sense, considering Charles was a Frenchman and France is noted for its romantic traditions. Oh, and in case you’re interested, teachers receive the most Valentine’s cards, followed by children, mothers, wives, sweethearts and pets. But don’t feel sorry for poor Fido and Fluffy, who come in last in cards, because they get 3% of all the Valentine’s gifts given. Not bad for a loved one who has a wet nose.
Speaking of love letters, every Valentine’s Day, the city of Verona, where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet lived, receives about 1,000 letters addressed to Juliet. But Verona isn’t the only place where letters or notes are popular. In the Middle Ages, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who would be their Valentine, then write that name in a heart-shaped note and pin it on their sleeve for everyone to see–especially the one whose name was on the note. Hence, the phrase: “to wear your heart on your sleeve.” It’s still a tradition in South Africa, today and, in some cases, it’s how South African men learn of their secret admirers.
But South Africa isn’t the only country with a unique Valentine’s Day tradition. In South Korea, the gift-giving commences on February 14th, with the women in the wooing mood when they give their men chocolates, candies and flowers. The guys return the woo on March 14th with a little one-upping by adding lavish gifts to the giving of chocolate, candies and flowers. Not to be outdone, however, in Italian tradition, young, unmarried girls wake up before dawn to spot their future husbands, believing that the first man they see on Valentine’s Day will be the one they will marry within a year. Of course, if that doesn’t happen, they have a back-up plan to help them save face, where they simply say, “Well, at least he looks like the man I’ll marry.” That plan runs a distant second to actually marrying the guy, but it’s something to hang on to. Back-up plans like that one are good though, and sticking with Italy, their next back-up plan is to come Valentine-calling with Baci Perugina in hand. It’s a small, chocolate-covered hazelnut wrapped with a romantic quote.
Yes, chocolate… Everybody loves it, including the Brazilians who go a-courting with it, as well. But not on February 14, because it’s too close to Carnival. So they hold off their lovefest until June 12, when they celebrate Dia dos Namorados, or “Lovers’ Day,” And yep, chocolates, along with flowers and cards, music festivals and performances.
So, why chocolates? Why not licorice, or cinnamon red hearts? Honestly, nothing spells romance better than a gummy worm, don’t you think? But, we have chocolate, and it’s been hanging in as the lovers’ favorite since the early 1800s. Back then, though, it wasn’t a romantic thing. Doctors prescribed it to their female patients to help relieve those certain symptoms associated with that special time of the month. It calmed them down, so it was said. Of course, so did those vibrator treatments those wacky doctors were giving out, personally, in their offices, back then. A vibrator AND chocolate…must have calmed m’lady right down into a perfect bliss. Oh, and about chocolate–Richard Cadbury produced the first box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day in the late 1800s, and more than 35 million heart-shaped boxes of pure, silky ecstasy are sold for Valentine’s Day any given year.
Cards, love notes, chocolates…isn’t it romantic? Actually, word romance wasn’t associated with the romance we know. It was originally a Latin adverb for Romanicus meaning “of the Roman style.” You know, when in Rome… The Romans considered themselves a chivalrous people, and their earliest tales of romance were actually stories of chivalric adventures. It wasn’t, until the late 17th century that the chivalric adventures turned more to the romantic escapades we know today. Probably had something to do with the hunk on the cover of a romance novel one of the ladies of the day was reading. She took one look at his bare chest, his long flowing hair, his well-muscled arms, his steely thighs…well, you know what I’m getting at.
Being the proper lady that she was, though, she surely hankered for the gift of a red rose from her true love, since chocolates weren’t around yet. Which is just another way to transition into why red roses have become the traditional Valentine’s flower. First, the red rose was the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. That’s as good a reason as any. But there’s more… red roses are also considered the love flower because red stands for strong romantic feelings, blood and fire, passion, desire, heat, longing, lust, sexuality…it’s a pretty long, self-explanatory list. Or, in other words, red just works.
So does the Welsh tradition of giving a love spoon for Valentine’s day. Only, it’s not exactly Valentine’s Day. It’s the celebration of Saint Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers, on January 25th. The hand-carved spoons were given as token of affection for the women they loved, and different patterns were carved into these spoons, including horseshoes for good luck; wheels to symbolize support; and keys for the keys to a man’s heart. Often, spoons given to lovers had two handles intertwining to form one. Interestingly enough, this tradition of giving spoons known as “spooning” makes it especially fitting when two handles intertwine. We all know what comes of that!
So, before I end this history lesson, let me leave you with a few more romantic traditions, like an old one in the Netherlands where prospective couples were put in separate sacks in the same bed to sleep together, but not allowed to engage in any premarital hanky-panky. Talk about tough love. Then there was that time during Italian Renaissance when the gentlemen would give their lady loves erotically-inscribed belts which would both remind them of their chastity while at the same time inciting them to horniness. Also, there’s that old, popular stand-by called the bridesworth, which went beyond the offering of the dowry, but could include acts of humiliation or entertainment such as chariot racing, singing, dancing and grueling interviews with the bride’s family. Often, a bridesworth could last for an entire year. And finally–the eating of the haggis every day, from Valentine’s Day to Valentine’s Day, for a year, to prove a man’s worth to his lady love. Actually, I just made that one up. But it sort of fits in doesn’t it?
There are so many kinds of wacky, wonderful, strange and romantic ways to celebrate your love, and that’s something I try to capture in my books. The different ways we go about it. To each his own, as they say. For some, Valentine’s Day is an expression for every day of the year. For a dear friend, it’s the biggest heart-shaped box of chocolates her husband can find. My grandfather always gave my grandmother red carnations for Valentine’s Day, and my grandmother always gave me a fresh, brand new five-dollar bill straight from the bank. For me, personally, Valentine’s Day is all about the thought, not the deed. Deeds are nice, but in end, I’ll take the thought any day. So what about you? Are you doing something special for Valentine’s Day? Gifts? Chocolates? A romantic dinner? Staying home together in your jammies, eating popcorn and watching a romantic movie? Or a scary one that’ll make you cuddle up?
Whatever your Valentine’s Day will be about, I hope it’s everything you wish for. It’s only one day of the year, so enjoy (unless you take up that haggis thing, then it’s for a whole year!).
And now…promo time. My latest, The Nurse and the Single Dad came out on the 1st. It’s available in all the usual places. That’s it. No more promo, no more wacky Valentine’s traditions like the one where, in 19th century rural Austria, an eligible lass would keep an apple slice crammed in her armpits during an entire evening of dance. At the end of the evening, she would give her used fruit to the guy she fancied. If the feeling was mutual, he’d wolf it right down, which sounds like true love to me. I know the old saying is something about the apple of his eye, but the apple of her armpit? Okay. I’m really done now. Promise.
Until next time, wishing you health & happiness.