grade son, recently infatuated with an adorable brunette, blushed when I inquired whom he asked to “be mine”? His little brother giggled, wondering if he could eat the candy and just give cards to his classmates. “Why do we give hearts on Valentine’s Day?” their sister asked. The little one yelled, “Dah, to get candy!”
Children don’t always understand the true meaning of our rituals. Shamefully, I realized that I too didn’t know. It was time to understand.
The history of Valentine’s Day is shrouded in mystery, which is, I suppose, rather romantic. No one knows the true origin of our February ritual, but it likely revolves around St. Valentine.
Though multiple saints are recognized, my favorite legend is that of a 3rd century Roman priest. Believing that single men made better soldiers than men with wives and children, Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine disagreed, so he married young lovers in secret until he was caught and put to death by Claudius.
“Romantic love” and Valentines were first associated in the High Middle Ages. Evidence is seen in Chaucer’s “Parliament of Foules” (1382): For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate. Imprisoned in the Tower of London in the 15th century, Charles, Duke of Orleans, wrote the earliest surviving valentine to his wife, while Margery Brewes penned, “My rights well beloved Valentine”. When Hamlet jolted her, Shakespeare’s Ophelia painfully expressed her broken heart in a Valentine poem.
Perhaps a famous nursery rhyme is borrowed from Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queen” – “She bathed with roses red, and violets blew, and all the sweetest flowers, that in the forest grew.” In 1797, Hallmark style verses appeared in the Young Man’s Valentine Writer, verses for young lovers who couldn’t compose their own.
The history of Valentines may be reduced to myths and legends, yet love seems to be a common theme based in fact. May your Valentines be filled with expressions of love.