14 Feb

On February 14th, couples around the world exchange, “I love you,” in hundreds of languages. In Yiddish, “ilkh hob dikh,” Hebrew “ani ohev otah,” Welsh “rwy’n dy gari,” Tahitian “ua here vau la oe,” and in French “j’tadore,” “I adore.”

Valentine love in the first grade was simple. A punch on the upper arm said it all. Second grade Valentine’s Day was simpler. Girls recited the alphabet while watching each other twist an apple’s stem off it’s core. Stems could be stubborn, resisting being yanked out at the alphabet letters we wanted. The letter the stem disconnected at, spelled the first initial in the name of the man we would marry or graduate to 3rd grade with. By the 3rd grade, boys were “cooties.”

British school children, hundreds of years earlier, celebrated “V-Day” differently. They went from home to home dressed up as adults, singing “Good morning to you, valentine, Curl your locks as I do mine, Two before and three behind. Good morning to you, valentine.” During the Middle Ages, young men and women wore names they drew from a bowl on their sleeves, hence originating the expression “wearing your heart on your sleeve.” The Victorian era designed loveseats for it’s women’s wide dress. Comfy for one, cosier for two, the s-shaped loveseats let loving couples sit close but not too close,  able to discuss love, amore and being each other’s Valentine.  

Old wives tales let women believe birds they spotted on Valentine’s Day could foretell the man they would marry someday- sparrows signified poor but happy; a goldfinch predicted a millionaire; a robin predicted a nautical, but nice, sailor’s wife life. The Welsh give wooden love spoons carved with hearts, keys and keyholes conveying “you unlock my heart.” In other cultures, young women keeping a gift of clothing received from young men, on Valentine’s Day, agree to marry him. Curious couples could guess as to how many children they’d have, by halving an apple, counting seeds inside or blowing a dandelion’s fuzzy head into the wind, the dandelion seeds remaining attached to the stem giving their offspring count.

Valentines Day’s origins are long forgotten in these days of emails and cellphones along with the art of handwritten love notes. The Day of Romantic Love dates back to 4th century BCE. February 14th the Romans annually engaged in a sensual celebration dedicated to their God, Lupercus. Young men randomly drew women’s names from an urn. The coupled exchanged love notes for the year until the next lottery was held. February 15th, women seeking blessing of fertility and easy births stepped in the way of priests, running the streets of Rome, seeking to be hit by the leftover sacrificial goat skin scraps the priests swung above their heads.

Pope Gelasius I outlawing this pagan festival in AD 496, felt, after eight hundred years, the people needed a non-pagan lovers celebration encouraging the people to emulate the lives of saints. Gelasius selected a Saint murdered some two hundred years earlier to be the patron saint. His name was Valentine. 

Catholics debated which of three martyred Catholics, Valentine was – a Roman priest or bishop of ancient Terni, both buried second half of the 3rd century on the Via Flaminia, or a little known North African. 

One legend says Valentine was executed for converting convicts to Christianity while imprisoned in Rome. Another legend says Valentinus was a priest, a candidate for Bishop, executed by Emperor Claudius II for marrying Christians together in holy sacrament. The Empire’s stretched borders were pressured from outside forces. Claudius the Cruel needed soldiers committed to fighting. Believing married men were emotionally attached to their families and foreseeing the end of the Roman Empire, forbid marriage. Valentinus, “the friend of lovers,” would secretly join young lovers together. Claudius arrested the young priest. Valentinus rejected the Emperor’s offer to save himself from execution by converting to the Roman Gods. Claudius beheaded Valentinus. The month was February.

Another legend describes Valentinus before his execution, asking his jailor for pen and paper upon which he wrote his farewell message to the loyal daughter of his jailor, whose sight he restored. Three immortal words, “from your Valentine.”

Saint Valentine became one of England’s most popular Saints. As Christianity spread, people maintained the romantic aspect of Saint Valentines life, exchanging heart-shaped, outlined and winged Cupid love notes, “valentines.” The sending of Valentine’s Day cards increased. Lovers exchanged handwritten notes calling each other “Valentine.” An early British valentine is in the British Library collection. It is the valentine Charles, the Duke of Orleans sent while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415, to his wife. Chaucer describes Valentine’s as the day on which birds were paired off to mate, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate,” “Parlement of Foules.”

Valentine’s Day romantic love was imported into America, by the 19th century, from British settlers bringing with St. Valentine legends from England and France. Mass-produced embossed paper lace valentines were produced and marketed soon after Esther A. Howland, of Worcester Massachusetts received an english valentine, in 1847. She began selling valentines in her father’s book and stationery store.  The Greeting Card Association says Valentine’s is the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, behind Christmas. One billion valentine cards are sent each year with women buying approximately 85 percent of the cards.

Despite the church abolishing Valentine’s day in 1969, “too many saint days of legendary origin,” Valentine’s Day continues to grow, commercially. The tradition has grown beyond cards to include all manner of gifts- roses, candy and fine jewelry. In Japan, women give giri-chocokoreeto, obligation chocolates, to men they fancy, one month later, receiving back from the man, something “white.” Valentine dinner dates are taken to mean a dating couple moved their relationship to a serious level. Though science confirms chocolate may be more of an aphrodisiac than diamonds, 28,914 jewelry stores across America, February 2004, sold over $2.4 billion worth of the jewel, DeBoers markets as “a girl’s best friend.”

Each year on February 14th, the heart city of Nebraska, Valentine, hosts weddings, ships heart-shaped-steaks-for-two and processes.“ Valentine’s “Cupid’s Mailbox,” program processes thousands of valentine greetings stamped with a specially designed Valentine’s day heart-shaped cancellation. Valentine’s Chamber of Commerce director, Dean Jacobs says proudly, “We do it up pretty big.”  

The one Valentine that Nebraska, diamonds and roses can’t beat is captured in the Old Testament, long before ancient Rome’s pagan Lupercus festival, long before hip-hop’s long lived exception to rap’s short lived careers, Ladies Love Cool James, LL Cool J, rapped out “Hey Lover.”

“A Woman Of Valor” is the love beat man of a thousand wives, Solomon, penned, as popular today as it was when it was written centuries ago. Amongst his over 3000 poems, 1005 songs,  Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes, “A Woman,” is the King’s poem that stands out from his Book of Proverbs, extolling love for the virtuous wife, “Esheth Chayil, a woman of valor, who shall find,” (Proverbs 31.) The melodic love sonnet is sung, or spoken with kavanah, conviction of heart, by the Jewish husband every Friday and Jewish holiday eve,  at the end of a busy week, while they stand together as husband and wife, impressing his wife’s heart, they triumphed, together, yet again, vanquishing together life’s difficulties, she is priceless in his life.

“A woman of valor who can find?

Her price is far above rubies.

So that he shall have no need of spoil.

The heart of her husband safely trust in her,

And he shall have no fear of loss of gain.

She does him good and not evil,

All the days of her life.”

 Americans continue to affirm their love affair with romance. Over 6,000 marriages a day take place in the United States, 2.2 million marriages annually. 54% of American women and  57% of American men over the age of 15 are married. Potential for love is in the air. The recipe for updating everlasting love may be with Solomon’s sonnets, more than the once a year the Greeting Card Manufacturer’s Association recommends. So, haul out the turntable, pump up the bible and scratch that needle across the vinyl with a phht- thunk-a thunka, pzzzt, huffa, huffa and oh-yeah, oh-yeah…. And weekly, hit it, rapper style…”A woman, a woman… of valor, of valor…. Oh yeah…..valentine…so fine… or in the traditional way….. “Esheth Chayil Mi Yimtzah, a woman of valor who can find…”



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