I remember being five years old and sitting at the kitchen table with pieces of red construction paper. I was cutting out hearts for Valentine’s Day cards. First I folded the paper in half and then I started snipping. Why was it that some hearts came out so skinny and other’s squat and fat? Some hearts looked more like leaves and flower petals, but they were pretty.
I didn’t follow a template. I just experimented until I got some hearts that I liked and then the fun began. Assembled before me were stacks of pretty pictures. We’d buy a box of “school card kits” at the supermarket, enough valentines for everyone in an entire class, including the teacher. I’d make them bigger and better. The little white envelopes for classroom cards were too small to send in the mail. In grade school we’d compete for the role of postman, the person to deliver cards to school desks.
For my original Valentines, I’d glue the pictures on a larger card, and add pieces of white lacey doilies for edging. Perhaps I’d do an original drawing or add a poem. I still make a few Valentines every year. Some years when I neglected to get out my Christmas or New Year’s cards on time, I’d send Valentine’s Cards instead.
This year, with the majority of schools operating virtually; the Valentine exchange has probably been forgotten. But it shouldn’t be, because this is the year we should be sending each other Valentines.
So where did the tradition of Valentine’s Day come from? The name comes from Saint Valentine, and there are three men who are recognized as Saints by the Catholic Church, but the most popular Valentine story is the one about the priest who performed secret marriages in opposition to Emperor Claudius II who ordered that all his soldiers remain single. Who the actual St. Valentine was is open to debate.
The February 14th date is a welcome relief from winter doldrums, and in normal times a boon to the Restaurant industry. Lovers and friends celebrate the holiday with opulent dinners, wine, flowers, and chocolates. This year with the icy weather and reduced seating due to the Pandemic; the majority of Valentine’s Day brunches and dinners will be enjoyed at home. It’s not too late to make the preparation of a gourmet meal– your gift to your special someone or to be delivered to a shut-in neighbor. And it doesn’t have to be on February 14th, as the actual date is arbitrary.
Maybe February 14th is the approximate date of one of the martyred St. Valentines’ funerals, but it is remarkably close to the Roman fertility festival Lupercalia, once celebrated on the Ides of February ( February 15th). In some Roman villages it is said that young men and women were matched up as lovers for a year in an effort to produce more children. A day that honored love and passion, in England and France February 14thwas the start of the birds’ mating season.
The tradition of exchanging cards and love tokens is thought to begin in the middle of the 18th century. By the 19th century, the mass production of printed cards made Valentines’ cards even more popular. Gloves and handkerchiefs were two personal items lovers often gave to one another during the Victorian era. Flowers—pressed or fresh, as well as lines of verse given to our Valentine follow the romantic tradition of conveying ardor for those we adore.
A holiday that during childhood I always looked forward to, whether making Valentines or receiving them, the day and the entire month is a good excuse for continuing to reach out to friends we may have lost contact with during the Pandemic shut-down. Phone calls and text messages work as well as cards and gifts. If you need a last minute gift, considering purchasing a copy of Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts, an anthology of speculative fiction Love stories published on behalf of a worth cause. (My short story “Geometric Dilemma” is in the collection). Whichever St. Valentine it was who was trying to promote the human connection, today we commemorate their efforts. Let’s try and keep it going.