September 15, 2019
Column

Valentine’s dates back to martyrs

According to the Society of American Florists, men will account for nearly 70 percent of all the flowers purchased for this Valentine’s Day.

And more than two-thirds of the women who do buy flowers on this special day of love won’t even be giving them to the men in their lives, but rather to their mothers, friends, daughters and assorted relatives.

The average man will, in fact, spend about $125 on Valentine’s Day gifts for his sweetie.

Women? A humble $38.

So if you’re an average American guy, perhaps you’ve wondered over the years just whom it is you should blame (I mean thank) for this one day each year that forces you (allows you, is what I meant to say) to show yourself as the more romantic, generous, sensitive and considerate member of the species, statistically speaking at least.

Well, as far as I have been able to determine, the identity of St. Valentine remains cloaked in ancient mystery, which seems appropriate when considering matters of the heart. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, and all of them were put to death for some crime or another.

Martyred saints. Now there’s a curious reason to uncork the bubbly and enjoy an evening of romance if I ever heard one.

According to legend, Valentine was a simple priest who lived in Rome during the third century. One day, a truly unromantic emperor named Claudius II decided to outlaw marriage for all young people in his realm on the theory that single men made much better soldiers than did men with wives and families waiting anxiously for them at home.

Valentine, who believed that every young woman should have the opportunity to become a war widow if she wished, defied the emperor’s decree and continued to perform marriages of young people in secret. When Claudius II heard about this, he ordered that Valentine be beheaded for running his subversive little wedding factory.

The legend goes on to say that Valentine, while in prison awaiting his execution, fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, who often came to visit him. Before his death, he wrote a romantic letter to the girl, signed it “From Your Valentine,” and shortly thereafter stepped up to the chopping block to become the first man to lose his head over love.

By the Middle Ages, Valentine, whoever he was, had become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Historians are divided over why Valentine’s Day came to be celebrated in the middle of February. Some contend that the date commemorates the day of Valentine’s death. Others suggest that the date was chosen as an attempt to Christianize the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, which was held at the beginning of the ides of February, about Feb. 15.

This annual festival of purification involved the ritualistic slaughter of goats and dogs, after which young men would slice the animal hides into strips, dip them in a vat of sacrificial blood, and then use the revolting things to slap young women in the hopes of making them more fertile in the coming year.

The eventual arrival of the heart-shaped box of valentine chocolates must therefore have thrilled the young Roman women, although the record is oddly silent on this point.

Nevertheless, Valentine’s Day continued to evolve in its own sweetly mysterious ways. Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14 as St. Valentine’s Day in 498 A.D., even if no one knows exactly why. During the Middle Ages, the day attained an even greater measure of romance for the French, who believed that Feb. 14 marked the beginning of the mating season for birds. The bee part was added later, presumably, to send a Frenchman’s passion right through the roof.

The oldest known valentine sentiment in existence today is said to be a poem written in 1415 by the Duke of Orleans to his wife, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. Later, Henry V hired a ghostwriter to express his tender valentine sentiments to Catherine of Valois, a practice that would eventually cross the ocean to become the modern greeting-card industry that will sell an estimated one billion Valentine’s Day cards before this day is done.

Approximately 85 percent of those cards will be purchased by women for their sweethearts, by the way. That seems only fair, considering it’s usually the guys who wind up making the run for the roses.

I guess we’re just hopeless romantics, statistically speaking.


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