Advent Sunday: Candles, pudding, Christmas joy on ‘Stir-Up Sunday’

Purple candle lit on Advent Wreath with Christmas tree in background

A first candle is lit on the Advent Wreath today. Photo courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 1: Western Christians enter the season of Advent today, waiting in joyful anticipation for the coming of Jesus: today is Advent Sunday. Churches and families across America typically will light a first candle today in the Advent wreath, marking the weeks until Christmas. Some churches also are adding special St. Nicholas Day programs this week, to remind children that the roots of the Santa Claus legends spring from an actual Christian saint.

Christmas pudding from a boxSTIR-UP SUNDAY: Did you know that some churches also use the informal phrase Stir-Up Sunday? The phrase refers to the inspiration of the Advent season and comes from a 16th-Century Book of Common Prayer reading for the day: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.” But in the Victorian era, this was the day when British families gathered in the kitchen to stir up the Christmas pudding. Sometimes families would pop a coin into the mix as well—so that whoever happened to get that coin in a scoop of the finished pudding would have good luck. Unfortunately, with the … ahem, the advent of ready-made Christmas puddings, a national survey in the UK revealed that most children these days have never gathered with their parents to stir up a from-scratch pudding. (Read much more about The Flavors of Faith in Lynne Meredith Golodner’s book.)

Remember that Eastern Christians began their annual Nativity Fast in prayerful preparation for Christmas back on November 15!

For Western Christianity, the Advent season consists of four Sundays, all of which are marked with a candle on the traditional Advent Wreath. Many church groups offer inspirational resources:

CATHOLIC: Catholic Culture offers a prayer for the blessing of the Advent Wreath, recipes for plum pudding and fruit cake, and instructions for a Jesse Tree. Also, the readings for today are at the website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

UNITED METHODIST: This year, the United Methodist Church has posted six sets of meditations for the weeks of Advent.

EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH in AMERICA: The ELCA has an easy-to-download-and-print set of readings and reflections for lighting the Advent candles.

PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (USA): The Presbyterian Church has a colorful PDF with Advent readings.

ANGLICANS ONLINE: This isn’t a denominational website, but Anglicans Online has a very extensive Advent resources list of links.

Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and Methodist churches use violet-colored vestments and décor during Advent; the color is changed to rose on the third Sunday of Advent, or Guadete Sunday. The Advent season officially ends on the evening of December 24.

Lively Spirits of Halloween: All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day and Dia de los Muertos

3 Pumpkins on a staircase in Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill KYTHURSDAY, OCT. 31: Halloween (All Hallow’s Eve).

FRIDAY, NOV. 1: All Saints’ Day.

SATURDAY, NOV. 2: All Souls’ Day.

NOV. 1-2: Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos).

FEW AMERICANS know the terms Hallowmass or Triduum of All Hallows, which refer to the traditional Christian remembrance of the saints who have passed from this world. Instead, for millions of men, women and children across the United States and around the world, the end of October brings the secular celebration of Halloween.

That’s 158 million souls in the U.S., to be exact, according to the annual Halloween survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF). This year’s report by the trade group is fueling predictions of a slight reduction in American festivities. The NRF says the 158 million celebrants, this year, will be down from a record 170 million last year. Experts claim that recent economic anxieties have American families hesitant about how much they will spend for candy and colorful costumes.

Nevertheless, the total outlay for this sugar-fueled blast are enormous! This year, “celebrants will spend $2.08 billion on candy and $360 million on greeting cards,” the NRF reports. Halloween now is “second only to Christmas in terms of spending on decorations; Americans will spend $1.96 billion on life-size skeletons, fake cob webs, mantle pieces and other festive decorations.”

What are typical Halloween customs today? We’ve now got annual tracking of the most popular Halloween habits by the NRF, which advises retailers on what to stock. Here are the most popular customs nationwide: “There are a variety of ways Americans will celebrate this year, with handing out candy being the most popular (72.0%). Others will carve a pumpkin (44.2%), visit a haunted house (20.3%), take their child trick-or-treating (31.7%) and decorate their home and/or yard (47.5%)—and 3 in 10 (30.9%) will make the most of the holiday by attending or hosting a party.”

Two well-established trends, this year, reported far and wide in news media: Producing pet costumes now is a multi-million-dollar business. And, TIME magazine reports: More money is spent on adult costumes than on children’s costumes—and your choice of costume may say a lot about your personality on this one flamboyant day, each year.

COMMUNICATING FROM THE DARK SIDE

Among the millions of adults who will dress up, this year, “costumes are communication devices,” writes TIME’s Halloween columnist Kit Yarrow, who chairs the psychology department of Golden Gate University. In her TIME article, Yarrow describes the meaning of several Halloween costuming trends, including a wide array of sexy costumes popular especially among college students and young adults.

More interesting, Yarrow writes, is the ongoing popularity of “dark side” costumes: “Vampires, grim reapers, devils, witches and other powerful, predatory characters are top costume picks across all adult age groups this year, as they have been for the past five years. Yes, dressing up as something spooky and scary is traditional for Halloween. But there may be something else at work here. In a political and economic era where people feel less certainty and control in their lives, there’s a certain allure to being a character that’s unburdened by empathy and more likely to be the perpetrator rather than the victim.”

CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVES ON ALL SAINTS’ DAY

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops still reminds the faithful that All Saints is “a holy day of obligation.” The Feast of All Saints gives “Catholics the opportunity to honor all the saints, both those solemnly recognized by the Church and those whose holiness of life is known only to God and to those who knew them.”

The Catholic Bishops provide the readings for the Solemnity of All Saints on their website. The readings include the famous passage from the Bible’s book of Revelation in which John is given a glimpse of what Christians consider the communion of saints surrounding God—”a great multitude,  which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.”

On the following day, November 2, all the dead are remembered in Catholic liturgy of All Souls, for which the bishops also provide readings.

These Christian festivals date back more than a millennia to the age when church leaders were eager to eclipse ancient pagan festivities such as Samhain and Feralia. The establishment of a Triduum of All Hallows was largely a Western Church response to traditions that remained from Roman times. (Our Holidays & Festivals column also is covering Samhain, a festival with a growing number of celebrants around the world.)

Christian churches that look to the East already have celebrated this festival, which is connected to Pentecost in the Orthodox world and is called Sunday of All Saints. In our coverage of that Eastern Orthodox holiday in June, we reported in part: “The Sunday of All Saints always falls on the first Sunday after Pentecost—owing to the belief that the descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) allows humans to rise above a fallen state and attain sainthood.”

DAY OF THE DEAD / DIA DE LOS MUERTOS

Catrina Calavera figures on Dia de Muertos. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Catrina Calavera figures on Dia de Muertos. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

This hugely popular festival has spread from Mexico to many other parts of the world, mainly because of the creative folk art associated with the holiday: skeleton-themed costumes, decorations, dances and even toys for children. According to Wikipedia, the Mexican festival is usually described as a regional celebration of both the Catholic All Saints and All Souls holidays, spanning both November 1 and 2. However, “scholars trace the origins of the modern Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl.”

In a recent Huffington Post column, Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, along with researcher David Metcalfe, wrote about the widespread and complex celebration of Dia de los Muertos these days. They wrote, in part: “Halloween and the Mexican death trinity of Day of the Dead, Catrina Calavera (Skeleton Dame), and Santa Muerte (Saint Death) engage millions of North and South Americans in rituals that reconnect us with our own mortality.”

They add, “While in the United States, All Hallows Eve has taken on the darker image of Halloween, with haunted houses, horror movie themes and the dead returning for trouble rather than tradition, in Latin America and Europe, where Catholic influences have remained strong, the first and second of November continue to hold their ancient ties to festivals associated with sacred remembrance of the influences found in the still living past. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos … is a time to reconnect with deceased friends, family members and ancestors in a festive spirit of remembrance and celebration.”

ALL HALLOWS IN THE ARTS

The spiritual realm separating the living and the dead has fascinated Christian writers and artists for centuries. In 1945, Charles Williams wrote his final mystical novel about All Hallows’ Eve. For a time, Williams was a member of the famous group of authors and scholars known as the Inklings, a group that included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Among the Inklings, Williams penned some of the most imaginative contemporary fiction, including this 1945 novel that explores what relationships might exist between the living and the dead. It opens with an eerie scene in which a dead woman finds her spirit, once again, wandering through London.

Want something less esoteric? The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has multiple lists, created by various IMDB users, recommending great Halloween movies. One of the biggest is this 100 Great Halloween Movies list.

Too scary? A lot of online movie buffs are offering kid-friendly lists of great Halloween movies. One of the best is a new posting in BuzzFeed, called 20 Movies to Watch with Your Kids  This Halloween. Want a more substantial authority picking the movies for your family? Try this Parenting list of 19 Best Halloween Movies for Kids.

(Originally published in readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Western Christians ring the bells for Easter

https://readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_313_Easter_empty_tomb.jpgChristians rejoice in the empty tomb of Jesus and his resurrectionSUNDAY, MARCH 31: Raise the lights, ring the church bells and joyously sing “Alleluia”—it’s Easter!

Western Christians the world over revel in the resurrection of Jesus, rejoicing in the promise of new life. Following the solemn 40-day reflections of Lent and the Easter Triduum—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday—Christians awaken to a new day. Donning their finest frocks in pastel colors, more than a billion men, women and children head to church for the festive Easter service, which often showcases shining brass instruments and rows of blossoming Easter lilies. (Wikipedia has details.)

Across the United States, it’s a holiday of family reunions, feasting and even parades in some communities. Hosting your own Easter brunch or dinner? Find recipes at Food Network and AllRecipes, or get DIY table-setting tips from HGTV. Martha Stewart also serves up tasty spring ideas on her website, and kids can get involved with help from Kaboose. Young and old can wow an Easter crowd with the slew of ideas for edible Easter nests from Huffington Post.

THE SYMBOL OF THE EASTER EGG

https://readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_313_Easter_chocolate_egg_FINAL.jpgThe Easter egg shines with spring symbolism, and even ancient civilizations associated the egg with new beginnings. Today, children around the globe search for hidden eggs on or near Easter, and decorating those eggs can be as simple or elaborate as the artist allows. In the UK, the Guardian holds an annual contest for the most beautifully decorated Easter egg. International chocolatiers mold sweet concoctions in the shape of delicate eggs. (Get inspired from the UK Metro’s list of 12 most opulent confectionery eggs, which includes a chocolate “night sky” egg that fetches north of $200.) Vienna, Austria hosts a whole heap of traditional Easter markets every year, from the market at Schonbrunn Palace that gathers 60 exhibitors and features a marzipan Easter Bunny workshop, to the Old Vienna Easter Market at the Freyung that piles up the largest mountain of Easter eggs in Europe every year.

THE EASTERN CHRISTIAN EASTER

Eastern Christians began their Lenten season just two weeks ago, on March 18. Eastern Orthodox devotees will mark Pascha (Easter) on May 5th this year.

Christian: Palm Sunday (& Sunday of Orthodoxy)

https://readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_313_Palm_Sunday_fronds.jpgPalm fronds woven into crucifixes. Photo courtesy of FlickrSUNDAY, MARCH 24: Holy Week kicks off for Western Christians with waving palm fronds reminding modern churchgoers of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. Described in all four Gospels, Jesus’ ride was a popular event. Those who had gathered to greet him lay down their cloaks and small branches in his path, in imitation of a custom used only for those of highest honor.

WHAT’S IN A PALM? Although today bears the theme of palm fronds, only one Gospel—John’s—specifically identifies palms in the procession. In the ancient world, palms were symbols of high esteem and victory; they sometimes appeared on coins; ancient Egyptians carried palms in funeral processions as a symbol of eternal life. Even Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and doors of the temple, and to this day, palms are one of the Four Species for the Jewish festival of Sukkot. (Wikipedia has details.)

In Christian churches today, the faithful will receive blessed palm leaves (or a substitution that can be found locally), and many will carry them home to display. In Mexico and Italy, especially, many will weave the palms into elaborate patterns and shapes and hang them above holy pictures, behind a crucifix or on the wall. (Learn to weave palms with help from this site.) In Elche, Spain—the site of the largest palm grove in Europe—palm leaves whitened and dried, after which skilled craftsmen braid them into extravagant shapes and figures.

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PALM SUNDAY AROUND THE WORLD

The BBC issued a widespread plea for a new donkey this year—for a Palm Sunday service in Wiltshire. Reenactments are common around the world. In one community in Belgium, 12 actors imitate the apostles and carry a wooden statue of Christ through the streets; Filippinos tote their own statue of Christ through villages on a donkey, before which elderly women spread heirloom aprons in its path. Italians offer blessed palms to one another as gifts of reconciliation, while in Ukraine and Poland, pussy willow branches are playfully struck on others. (Get more customs and information from FishEaters, a Catholic site.)

EASTERN ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS: SUNDAY OF ORTHODOXY

https://readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_313_Orthodox_icon_.jpgEach Sunday of Lent represents a theme in Eastern Orthodoxy, and this—the first Sunday of Lent—recalls the historic victory of icons.

While most themes are spiritual, this one is historical, as the Triumph of Orthodoxy occurred at this time in 843 CE. Learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. More than a millennia ago, an iconoclastic controversy had been raging for decades. What began in 726 CE had forced a rift among Christians, with Iconoclasts believing the miracles and worship attributed to icons was a dangerous form of idolatry; Iconophiles, or Iconodules, argued that boundaries needed to be set but that icons remained an important part of man’s expression of the divine. The Seventh Ecumenical Council of 787 deemed icons objects worthy of veneration, but not worship. In 843, icons were restored and their place reestablished. (Read more at Orthodox Wiki.) The spiritual theme of this Sunday is the victory of True Faith, and the texts sung on the Sunday of Orthodoxy reflect those official teachings about icons.

Eastern Christians will observe Palm Sunday on April 28 this year.

Christian: Don ye shamrock for St. Patrick’s Day

https://readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_313_Shamrocks_St.jpgSUNDAY, MARCH 17: Pin a shamrock to your clothing today in solidarity with the Irish on the feast of St. Patrick’s Day. As the smell of corned beef and cabbage floats through the air, global citizens the world over wear green and make a toast to this ancient saint. For more than 1,000 years, the Irish have lifted the restrictions of Lent on March 17 to indulge in St. Patrick celebrations—and since then, thousands of other Christians have followed suit. So dance, feast and raise your glass to St. Patrick! (Find recipes at AllRecipes and Taste of Home, or for a healthier slant, at Eating Well.)

ST. PATRICK—IN CHURCH AND IN IRELAND

https://readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_313_Patrick_St.jpgHistorical records are unclear, but the story is told that St. Patrick was born in the 4th century to a wealthy family—either in Scotland, England or northern Wales. A self-proclaimed Roman and Briton, Patrick’s genealogy placed him beneath a deacon and priest of the Christian Church. (Learn more at American Catholic.)

Unfortunately, Patrick’s career path was cut short when he was kidnapped, along with several of his father’s slaves, and taken to Ireland. For more than five years, Patrick worked as a slave. One night, Patrick had a dream in which he reportedly was instructed by God to flee from captivity and return to Britain; this he did successfully, and upon reaching Britain he began studying to be a priest. (Wikipedia has details.)

Not long after, Patrick had another dream—this one telling him to return to Ireland for missionary work, because “all the children of Ireland from their mothers’ wombs were stretching out their hands” to him. Patrick returned to Ireland, spent almost 30 years trying to Christianize the pagan land and died on March 17, 461 CE. Legend has it that St. Patrick used a shamrock to explain the Christian Trinity to the Irish, and the small plant has been known as the symbol of St. Patrick ever since. (Find interactive activities at History.com.)

The Irish kept his memory alive for a millennium. More widespread and official Catholic St. Patrick’s Day feasts began in the early 17th century. Both Eastern and Western Christians recognize St. Patrick, for both his influence and historical significance. Ireland followed suit with an official public holiday in 1903, and Ireland elevated the holiday in the mid-1990s when a campaign urged a national festival that would rank among the greatest in the world, thereby showcasing the best of Irish culture and its people. (Looking to host your own St. Patty party? Get ideas from Martha Stewart and Betty Crocker. Kids can get inspired with crafts and more at Kaboose.)

ST. PATRICK’S DAY SHADES OF GREEN

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One needn’t be in Ireland to experience the joy of St. Patrick’s Day—any major metropolis will do! In Buenos Aires, Argentina, and across Australia, all-night parties feature dancing in the streets and drinking until the wee morning hours; in both London, England, and Chicago, Ill., notable bodies of water are dyed green amid the parades and other festivities. Canadians in Montreal take pride in the shamrock on their flag, boasting one of the longest-running St. Patrick’s Day parades in North America. Irish Guards of the British Army don shamrocks—flown in from Ireland—on March 17, and Manchester hosts an annual two-week Irish festival in the weeks preceding St. Patty’s. Even Japan, Korea and Russia have taken a liking to the green, with each sporting parades and festivities related to St. Patrick’s Day.

Love Irish dancing? Learn proper stance and a few steps with help from YouTube. Or, watch this YouTube shot of Riverdance. Those interested in costumes, hairstyles and everything in between can read about it all at Irish-dancer.co.uk.

Christian: Wear a leek for St. David of Wales

https://readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-0225_leek_badge_of_wales.jpgFRIDAY, MARCH 1: Proudly wear a leek and join the Welsh celebration of St. David of Wales. St. David’s Day was voted a public holiday in 2000—so it’s a major event in Welsh culture.

Does this sound like a strange custom? In fact, Shakespeare often is blamed for promoting the association with leeks in his extended discussion of the symbol among characters in the play Henry V (look in Act 5). Shakespeare claimed that leeks were a proud and ancient symbol, worn by warriors in relation to St. David’s Day. Of course, down through history, there have been many other connections of these combined traditions.

Many Welsh pin daffodils and leeks to their lapels to represent both Wales and St. David. Why the daffodil? The words “daffodil” and “leek” have similar names in the Welsh language; daffodil is “Peter’s leek.”

WHO WAS ST. DAVID?

He was a famous, if extremely strict, Christian leader. Rumored to have lived to age 100, St. David founded several churches and monasteries during the 6th century—all the while focused on simplicity. The Monastic Rule of David held monks to such strict guidelines that they partook solely of bread, water, herbs and salt; pulled ploughs through the fields with no assistance from animals; and spent evenings in prayer and reading. (Wikipedia has details.)

https://readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-0225_leek_in_a_crown_pound.jpgPHOTO AT TOP: This leek image is regarded as an official badge of Wales. LOWER IMAGE: This 1-Pound British coin has the leek in a crown on one side.David forbid personal possessions and promoted asceticism, until his death on March 1. It’s claimed that when David died, the monastery was “filled with angels as Christ received his soul.” David’s last words emanated through Wales following his death, as he had preached in a final sermon the previous Sunday: “Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. Do ye the little things in life.” Today, David’s words remain a well-known phrase in Wales.

In contrast to many other popular saints, David was canonized quite early in Catholic history: 1120 CE. The patron saint of Wales earned a permanent position in Welsh culture when a poem predicted that at a time in the future when all seems lost, the Welsh people will unite behind the banner of St. David. (Cook up authentic Welsh recipes with help from Wales Online.)

ST. DAVID’S DAY: A ROYAL AFFAIR

Each year, parades abound in Wales for St. David, and the largest of these—held in Cardiff—is attended by either the British Monarch or Prince of Wales. St. David’s Hall hosts a traditional concert with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC National Chorus of Wales, while Swansea—the city that holds St. David’s Cathedral—hosts a St. David’s Week festival with music, sports and cultural events. This year, it’s been reported the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall will attend a St. David’s Day service in Cardiff; one day later, Queen Elizabeth will visit Swansea and present leeks to the 3rd Battalion of The Royal Welsh.

Disneyland Paris celebrates yearly with a Welsh-themed week, fireworks, parades and Disney characters dressed in traditional Welsh clothing.

International Observance: Show love on Valentine’s Day

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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

https://readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-0213_Valentine_Day_card_from_1800s.jpg‘My Dearest Miss—Send Thee a Kiss’ Such was the message on this fancy Valentine from England, dated 1862.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

https://readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_213_Valentine_food.jpgStumped 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.