by lyle e davis
Yes, boys and girls, it’s that time again. Valentine’s Day is just three days away from today - and I just know you’ve already picked out a lovely, romantic gift for that special someone in your life.
So that you might dazzle your beloved with your intimate knowledge of this special day, we offer a history of this annual event.
Every February, across the country, candy, flowers, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint and why do we celebrate this holiday? The history of Valentine's Day — and its patron saint — is shrouded in mystery. But we do know that February has long been a month of romance.
St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. So, who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.
One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men — his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.
According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor's daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and, most importantly, romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.
Why do we celebrate on February 14?
While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial — which probably occurred around 270 A.D — others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to 'christianize' celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival. In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification.
Lupercalia, which began at the ides of February, February 15, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.
The boys then sliced the goat's hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goathide strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.
Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D. The Roman 'lottery' system for romantic pairing was deemed un-Christian and outlawed. Later, during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of February — Valentine's Day — should be a day for romance.
The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. The greeting, which was written in 1415, is part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.
In Great Britain, Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one's feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine's Day greetings.
Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. The earliest valentine that is recorded as having been sent via mail is in 1806. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the Mother of the Valentine, made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as "scrap."
According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.)
Approximately 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women. In addition to the United States, Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.
Now, if you really want to dazzle “your valentine,” you might try some very romantic quotes, given freely to you by some of hsitory’s most famous people, all of whom, apparently, were something of a romantic, much like you, no doubt:
Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
- Lao Tzu
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Young love is a flame; very pretty, often very hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. The love of the older and disciplined heart is as coals, deep-burning, unquenchable.
- Henry Ward Beecher
Age does not protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age.
- Anais Nin
Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward in the same direction.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Love has no desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires;
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.
Love does not dominate; it cultivates.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.
- Zora Neale Hurston
Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love.
- Leo Tolstoy
Love is like quicksilver in the hand. Leave the fingers open and it stays. Clutch it, and it darts away.
- Dorothy Parker
I have learned not to worry about love; but to honor its coming with all my heart.
- Alice Walker
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way than this: where I does not exist nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
- Pablo Neruda, "Love Sonnet XVII"
Some of the worlds’ greatest, and most famous lovers . . .in no particular order . . .
The name "Casanova" has long since come to conjure up the romantic image of the prototypical libertine and seducer, thanks to the success of Giacomo Casanova's posthumously published 12-volume autobiography, Histoire de ma vie, which chronicled with vivid detail — as well as some exaggeration — his many sexual and romantic exploits in 18th-century Europe. Born in Venice in 1725 to actor parents, Casanova was expelled from a seminary for scandalous conduct and embarked on a varied career, including a stint working for a cardinal in Rome, as a violinist, and as a magician, while traveling all around the continent. Fleeing from creditors, he changed his name to Chevalier de Seingalt, under which he published a number of literary works, most importantly his autobiography. Casanova's celebration of pleasure seeking and much-professed love of women — he maintained that a woman's conversation was at least as captivating as her body — made him the leading champion of a movement towards sexual freedom, and the model for the famous Don Juan of literature. After working as a diplomat in Berlin, Russia, and Poland and a spy for the Venetian inquisitors, Casanova spent the final years of his life working on his autobiography in the library of a Bohemian count. He died in 1798.
Though her life was marked by sickness, tragedy and other hardships from beginning to end, the famous French chanteuse with the throaty voice became the epitome of classic Parisian-style romance for her legions of fans. Born Edith Giovanna Gassion in 1915, she was abandoned by her mother and reared by her grandmother; while traveling with her father, a circus acrobat, she began singing for pennies on the street. Discovered by a cabaret promoter who renamed her Piaf, or "sparrow," (and was later brutally murdered), Edith enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom and by 1935 was singing in the grandest concert halls in Paris. Piaf was married twice, but her great love was the boxer Marcel Cerdan, a world middleweight champion who was killed in a plane crash en route from Europe to New York in 1949. It was for Cerdan that Piaf sang the achingly romantic "Hymne a l'amour," celebrated all over the world as one of her best loved ballads. After a near lifelong struggle with drug and alcohol addictions, Piaf died of liver cancer on the French Riviera in 1963. Her grave is one of the most visited in Paris's world famous Pere Lachaise cemetery.
An actress since early childhood, the dark haired, violet-eyed Elizabeth Taylor has won two Best Actress Oscars (for Butterfield 8 in 1960 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1966) but is perhaps best known for her rare beauty — and her epic love life. She has been married a total of eight times — twice to the same man, the actor Richard Burton, whom she has called "one of the two great loves of my life." The first was the film producer Mike Todd, who died in a plane crash in 1958. Taylor and Burton met on the set of Cleopatra, when both were married to other people; their affair soon made headlines around the world and earned a public rebuke from no lesser authority than the Vatican. Their own married life together was a study in extremes, soaked in alcohol and characterized by a passion that was no less intense when they were fighting than when they were getting along. After divorcing in 1973, they found it impossible to stay apart and remarried in 1975, only to break up four months later. Barred from Burton's funeral in 1984 by his last wife, Taylor still received legions of condolences, honoring her and Burton's place in the pantheon of history's most celebrated love.