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  • Archive for February, 2012

    Has Spring Finally Sprung?

    2012 - 02.28

    I must say that for the end of February, this nice weather has been a welcome respite from the cold — not that it gets bitter here in Southeast Missouri, but it’s cold enough for me to complain, especially when I am out in it during outdoor recess duty and bus duty everyday at temperatures that have been hovering just a few degrees from freezing. The warmth of the sun has evidently awakened my daffodils that I transplanted last year and my purple snow crocuses. The maple trees in my front yard have begun to bud, and I dare say that I saw a leaf or two sprouting from my rose  bushes.

    Spring isn’t normally supposed to come this early, but the winter has been exceptionally mild this year. In the back of my mind, I keep anticipating either unexpected cold snap that will certainly kill everything trying to grow, an ice storm, or flooding like we had last year. I really hope none of the above happens. I would really like to say that we are experiencing an early spring.

    For me spring is also an indicator of the fact that it’s once again time to send out those teaching application packets to area school districts. This will be the third year I have tried to get a teaching job, so I hope perhaps my persistence will pay off.

    St. Valentine’s Day

    2012 - 02.14

    Flowers. Heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. Sappy cards. Stores vomiting pink and red. It’s that time of year again, the most romantic holiday in the world: Valentine’s Day.

    Back when I was in school, the student council used to sell carnations for a dollar apiece and you could send them to anyone you wanted. Since I was perpetually dateless in high school, I was never a recipient of any carnations or other Valentine’s Day gifts. I watched as an endless stream of carnations, rose bouquets, teddy bears, and boxes of chocolates circulated throughout the school. Girls squealed with delight as they bragged about the gift their boyfriend had gotten them. And me? I envied them, naturally. For a boyfriend-less outcast, Valentine’s Day was quite painful to endure since it isn’t exactly a holiday that’s fair to single folks. In fact, it was miserable, much like prom. I wanted to have someone think that I was special enough to receive those gifts, too. It took graduation from high school and moving to an entirely different state for me to finally enter my first serious relationship, which is standing at nearly 11 years.

    The idea of finally having a special someone to share Valentine’s Day with made me ecstatic. One of the first Valentine’s Days that I celebrated with my husband was when we were first dating. He was still working as a flight instructor at the airport then, and I remember he made reservations at a nice restaurant (linen tablecloths and all), and I wore a dress, which is something I don’t do for just anyone. After dinner, he surprised me with an airplane ride (it was cold as hell, but it was fun), a cute dog stuffed animal, which I still have, and red roses, which I love. It was probably the best Valentine’s Day I ever had.

    But why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day? Where in the world did it come from?

    Historical Facts

    Most Holidays have some basis in historical facts. I did a little research on Wikipedia and have found that numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine. The Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. Valentine of Romewas a priest in Rome who was martyred about AD 269 and was buried on the Via Flaminia. His relics are at the Church of Saint Praxed in Rome and at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland.

    Valentine of Ternibecame bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) about AD 197 and is said to have been martyred during the persecution under Emperor Aurelian. He is also buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different location than Valentine of Rome. His relics are at the Basilica of Saint Valentine in Terni (Basilica di San Valentino).

    The Catholic Encyclopedia also speaks of a third saint named Valentine who was mentioned in early martyrologies under date of February 14. He was martyred in Africa with a number of companions, but nothing more is known about him.

    No romantic elements are present in the original early medieval biographies of either of these martyrs. By the time a Saint Valentine became linked to romance in the 14th century, distinctions between Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni were utterly lost.

    Saint Valentine’s head was preserved in the abbey of New Minster, Winchester and venerated. But there is no evidence that Saint Valentine was a popular saint before Chaucer’s poems in 14th century, not even in the area of Winchester.Saint Valentine’s celebration didn’t differ from the celebrations of many other saints, and no church was ever dedicated to him.

    So in other words, St. Valentine’s Day did not begin with any romantic connotations whatsoever. Instead, it began as a celebration of martyred saints whose names happened to be Valentine.


    Although there really is no historical romantic basis for the holiday, there are a few legends circulating around the holiday:

    The Early Medieval acta (Acts of the Saints) of either Saint Valentine were expounded briefly in Legenda Aurea (Golden Legend). According to that version, St Valentine was persecuted as a Christian and interrogated by Roman Emperor Claudius II in person. Claudius was impressed by Valentine and had a discussion with him, attempting to get him to convert to Roman paganism in order to save his life. Valentine refused and tried to convert Claudius to Christianity instead. Because of this, he was executed. Before his execution, he is reported to have performed a miracle by healing the blind daughter of his jailer.

    Since Legenda Aurea still provided no connections whatsoever with sentimental love, appropriate lore has been embroidered in modern times to portray Valentine as a priest who refused an unattested law attributed to Roman Emperor Claudius II, allegedly ordering that young men remain single. The Emperor supposedly did this to grow his army, believing that married men did not make for good soldiers. The priest Valentine, however, secretly performed marriage ceremonies for young men. When Claudius found out about this, he had Valentine arrested and thrown in jail.

    There is an additional modern embellishment to The Golden Legend, provided by American Greetings to History.com, and widely repeated despite having no historical basis whatsoever. On the evening before Valentine was to be executed, he would have written the first “valentine” card himself, addressed to the blind daughter of his jailor Asterius, signing as “From your Valentine.”

    It All Stemmed From Chaucer

    The first recorded association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love is in Parlement of Foules in 1382 by Geoffrey Chaucer (the same guy who wrote The Canterbury Tales) in which he wrote:

    For this was on seynt Volantynys day
    Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

    For this was Saint Valentine’s Day,
    when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.

    This poem was written to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia.A treaty providing for a marriage was signed on May 2, 1381. When they were actually married eight months later, they were each only 15 years old.

    Readers have uncritically assumed that Chaucer was referring to February 14 as Valentine’s Day; however, mid-February is an unlikely time for birds to be mating in England. Henry Ansgar Kelly has pointed outthat in the liturgical calendar, May 2 is the saints’ day for Valentine of Genoa. This St. Valentine was an early bishop of Genoa who died around AD 307.

    Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules is set in a fictional context of an old tradition, but in fact there was no such tradition before Chaucer. The speculative explanation of sentimental customs, posing as historical fact, had their origins among 18th-century antiquaries, notably Alban Butler, the author of Butler’s Lives of Saints, and have been perpetuated even by respectable modern scholars. Most notably, “the idea that Valentine’s Day customs perpetuated those of the Roman Lupercalia has been accepted uncritically and repeated, in various forms, up to the present”.

    Medieval Ages and More

    On Valentine’s Day in 1400, the French established a “High Court of Love” which was based on the language of the law courts for the rituals of courtly love. The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women. Judges were selected by women on the basis of a poetry reading.The earliest surviving valentine is a 15th-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orléans to his wife, which says:

    Je suis desja d’amour tanné (I am already weathered of love)
    Ma tres doulce Valentinée… (My sweet Valentine)
    —Charles d’Orléans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2

    At the time, the duke was being held in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415.

    Valentine’s Day is also mentioned ruefully by Ophelia in Hamlet (1600–1601):

    To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
    All in the morning betime,
    And I a maid at your window,
    To be your Valentine.
    Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
    And dupp’d the chamber-door;
    Let in the maid, that out a maid
    Never departed more.
    —William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5

    John Donne used the legend of the marriage of the birds as the starting point for his Epithalamion celebrating the marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of James I of England, and Frederick V, Elector Palatine on Valentine’s Day:

    Hayle Bishop Valentine whose day this is
    All the Ayre is thy Diocese
    And all the chirping Queristers
    And other birds ar thy parishioners
    Thou marryest every yeare
    The Lyrick Lark, and the graue whispering Doue,
    The Sparrow that neglects his life for loue,
    The houshold bird with the redd stomacher
    Thou makst the Blackbird speede as soone,
    As doth the Goldfinch, or the Halcyon
    The Husband Cock lookes out and soone is spedd
    And meets his wife, which brings her feather-bed.
    This day more cheerfully than ever shine
    This day which might inflame thy selfe old Valentine.
    —John Donne, Epithalamion Vpon Frederick Count Palatine and the Lady Elizabeth marryed on St. Valentines day

    The verse Roses are Red echoes conventions traceable as far back as Edmund Spenser’s epic The Faerie Queene (1590):

    She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
    And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.

    The modern cliché Valentine’s Day poem can be found in the collection of English nursery rhymes Gammer Gurton’s Garland (1784):

    The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
    The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
    Thou art my love and I am thine;
    I drew thee to my Valentine:
    The lot was cast and then I drew,
    And Fortune said it shou’d be you.

    I never knew that’s where that old cliche poem came from. I just learned something new!

    The Modern Valentine’s Day

    In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called “mechanical valentines,” and a reduction in postal rates in the next century ushered in the less personal but easier practice of mailing Valentines. That, in turn, made it possible for the first time to exchange cards anonymously, which is taken as the reason for the sudden appearance of racy verse in an era otherwise prudishly Victorian.

    Paper Valentines became so popular in England in the early 19th century that they were assembled in factories. Fancy Valentines were made with real lace and ribbons, with paper lace introduced in the mid-19th century. In the UK, just under half of the population spend money on their Valentines and around 1.3 billion pounds are spent yearly on cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts, with an estimated 25 million cards being sent.The reinvention of Saint Valentine’s Day in the 1840s has been traced by Leigh Eric Schmidt.As a writer in Graham’s American Monthly observed in 1849, “Saint Valentine’s Day… is becoming, nay it has become, a national holyday.”In the United States, the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold shortly after 1847 by Esther Howland (1828–1904).

    Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.The mid-19th century Valentine’s Day trade was a harbinger of further commercialized holidays in the United States to follow.

    In the second half of the 20th century, the practice of exchanging cards was extended to all manner of gifts in the United States. Such gifts typically include roses and chocolates packed in a red satin, heart-shaped box. In the 1980s, the diamond industry began to promote Valentine’s Day as an occasion for giving jewelry.

    So in other words, Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday has only been celebrated as such in the past 100 plus years. My husband and I recently had an argument in which he (disgustedly) pointed out that Valentine’s Day was a very one-sided and he thinks it’s stupid. Traditionally, it really has been the man’s role to woo his love interest because back then, men and women had very different roles than today, but I never really thought about it like that. But what exactly do men want on Valentine’s Day? I suppose I’ve been pretty guilty in thinking that it should be the man’s job to get me something for Valentine’s Day, but to be fair, I go back to my previous question: what do you get a man for Valentine’s Day?

    Well my husband loves food, so I think I’ll be cooking a special dinner for him. Wine included. As for dessert — I’ll leave that to obvious speculation. And what do I want? I’m happy as long as I don’t have to be miserable. Oh, and maybe that heart-shaped box of chocolates.