THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14: Whether your love style reflects the romance of Geoffrey Chaucer, the friendship of Finland or the devotion of three early Christian saints, be sure to do one thing: express your love—it’s Valentine’s Day!
Some historians point to the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia as the start of the modern cupid’s day; ancient Greeks also observed a mid-February festival, dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera. Yet the High Middle Ages began the “true” connection between mid-February and googley eyed love, particularly when Geoffrey Chaucer composed Parlement of Foules for the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia. News of Parlement of Foules spread quickly, and courtly love began to flourish. For the first time, lovers began en masse expressing their feelings for each other on Valentine’s Day with lengthy poems, flowers and notes.
THE FIRST VALENTINE POETRY AND CARDS
The earliest credited “valentine”—aside from the alleged note written in a jail cell by St. Valentine, more than 1,000 years earlier—was composed in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife. The Duke had lots of time to write poetry, because he spent more than two decades as a prisoner in England. During those long years, he wrote hundreds of poems. What did he write in that first valentine message? Most historians claim the following (in English translation):
I am already sick of love
My very gentle Valentine—
Since for me you were born too soon,
And I for you was born too late.
God forgives he who has estranged
Me from you for the whole year.
I am already sick of love
My very gentle Valentine.
The Duke likely was inspired on Valentine’s Day by Geoffrey Chaucer’s 1382 poem, Parlement of Foules. Meanwhile, romance also spurred a “High Court of Love,” established in Paris in 1400: the court dealt with love contracts, betrayals and violence against women. History comes full circle this year, with One Billion Rising on Feb. 14—a global movement to end violence against women.
By 1797, a romantic Valentine’s Day was exploding in Europe and a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer to inspire tongue-tied lovers. Not long after, printers began producing cards and factories adorned fancier versions with cloth lace and ribbons. Valentine fever hit the United States by the mid-19th century, and today, the U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 1 billion valentines are sent each year.
WHO WAS SAINT VALENTINE(S)?
There wasn’t one; there actually were three Saint Valentines in Christian history, all of whom are honored on St. Valentine’s Day. Of these, the most noted was Valentine of Rome, a priest who assisted persecuted Christians around 270 CE. (Learn more at American Catholic.) This Valentine was a romantic, too: While soldiers were forbidden from marrying, under the belief that a married soldier was distracted, Valentine performed soldier weddings in secret. Legend also has it that he handed out paper hearts to the soldiers as a reminder of God’s love. On the final night before his execution, Valentine supposedly wrote a letter to his jailer’s daughter, signing it, “from your Valentine.”
FROM ‘FRIENDSHIP DAY’ TO ‘WHITE DAY’
Worldwide, Valentine’s Day is about much more than romantic love. In Finland, Valentine’s Day is called “Friend’s Day;” in Estonia, the day has the same meaning. In some Latin American countries, Valentine’s Day spans all types of love as “Day of Love and Friendship.”
Though Carnival and the Chinese New Year prevent extravagant Valentine’s celebrations in participating regions of the world, precise marketing strategies have evolved the holiday in parts of Asia into two expensive occasions: Valentine’s, when men or women give gifts to the opposite sex, and White Day, a holiday following when recipients return the favor. In Japan, men’s gifts must equal 2-3 times that of the woman’s, or else he is seen as egotistically superior and undervaluing the relationship. On the contrary, Hindu and Islamic traditionalists consider the entire concept of Valentine’s Day a cultural contamination from the West. Saudi Arabian religious police banned the sale of Valentine’s Day items in 2011, and Iranians have been pushing to establish a festival of love for mothers and wives on February 17.
A VATICAN VIEW OF LOVE
Pope Benedict dedicated his First Encyclical to God’s love, and Catholics are expected to consider his suggested biblical verse for today: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” Benedict’s words can be read here, as he examines the three separate words for love used in the ancient world and how they apply to our faith today. Benedict encourages Catholics to experience this divine love and to further spread God’s light into the world.
A FRESH IDEA FOR 2013: THANK SOMEONE WHO CARES FOR YOU
ReadTheSpirit’s new WeAreCaregivers columnist Heather Jose tells how she and her husband are transforming their own February 14 to a time of expressing thanks for caring. See how they do it and you may be moved to try it yourself.
VALENTINE’S RECIPES, CRAFTS & IDEAS
Stumped on how to impress your Valentine? Try a love-inspired recipe from Food Network or Taste of Home, followed by a movie ranked by Boston.com as one of the top 25 romantic movies of all time.
Boston.com also inspires with a gallery of golden-anniversary couples, filled with romantic advice on lasting marriage.
Those on a budget can gather gift ideas from Huffington Post, and TIME suggests Valentine’s food specials on the cheap, from Krispy Kremes to White Castle. Feeling crafty? Try an idea from Martha Stewart or, for kids, Kaboose.