Happy Valentine’s Day, Lovers and Friends
and grandmothers …
Or, as they say in France, Joyeuse Saint Valentin!
We in the US know how we celebrate Valentine’s Day: sentimental card first, always with a picture of a heart; styrofoam-tasting candy hearts with the little words on them, maybe; flowers; an elegant (though generally overpriced) dinner out; candles, perhaps wine. But always a card. Even school children exchange Valentine’s cards with classmates (and grandmothers).
Woody and I generally celebrate Valentine’s Day the same way we celebrate our anniversary. We find a store with a great selection of cards, go there and choose the card we’d send if we were to send a card. Then we read each other’s choice (there in the aisle), put the cards back in the rack, and go out for a nice lunch.
This tradition began when we lived in Philadelphia and the U of Penn Bookstore (a Barnes & Noble) was just a few blocks away. Since moving to Vermont, it’s been a bit harder to come up with a good card selection. But, still, we persevere. Wonder where we’ll wind up this year.
OK, yes; that was a digression. I’m back now.
Curious just where this holiday came from, I read a few accounts, settling on France (not literally, you know). France likes to claim Valentine’s Day started there. (Brits take exception to that, let the record show). Oh and, by the way, in France, Valentine’s Day is definitely an adult holiday. No kids allowed.
France loves Valentine’s day.
The restaurants there make out the best, followed by the wine and candy industries. The greeting card industry, however, pales to what we have here in the US, which is ironic, since the Valentine’s Day stories out of France both involve a card.
Let’s start in the third century (AD)
Emperor Claude of Rome, who was trying to keep his army going, believed single young men made better soldiers. Alas, the potential soldiers were more interested in love than war, so “Cruel Claude” (as he came to be known) banned marriages throughout the Empire.
Enter a sympathetic priest, one serendipitously named Valentine, who, in defiance of the ban, not only continued to perform marriages, he encouraged them. Valentine wound up in jail (as any good story would insist), where he befriended the blind daughter of his jailer. Here’s where the card part comes in. Just before his execution (legend has it) he not only restored the blind girl’s sight, he gave her a heart shaped card, signed “From your Valentine.”
Fast forward another two hundred years (the 5th century) and Valentine got sainted “for his sacrifice in the defense of love.” Hence, we now have Saint Valentine’s Day. For more information, check out this link.
But we’re focusing on cards today. And France. We’ll move forward ten centuries to 1415, when the Duke of Orleans, Charles to his friends, was imprisoned in the Tower of London (after being captured by the British at the Battle of Agincourt, for the history buffs among us). From the tower, he wrote a love letter to his wife, which included these words, “I am already sick with love, My very gentle Valentine.”
This, the French hold, established their right to the claim of where Valentine’s Day began.
Why February 14th you ask?
For that we look to the Middle Ages and the exchange of tokens of love that coincided with the beginning of mating season for the birds – mid February. If nature can fall in love in mid February, why not young lovers, they thought. I imagine.
That St. Valentine’s execution (back in the third century) was registered as February 14, couldn’t have hurt, either.
But there’s more. Read about it in this little drop down window:
two houses, facing each other
a street between them? A small street, I’m sure. Empty.
One house is filled with single, eligible women looking for commitment. Love too, but commitment.
The other house is filled with single, eligible men also looking.
Each call out the name of their heart’s desire and off they go to meet one another. Simple enough.
But no. There’s more.
In une loterie d’amour all does not end well for everyone. Some matches are simply not to be. Here’s where the fun begins.
The man, unhappy in his pairing, abandons the young maiden and returns to the house to try again. Why does this sound familiar? What if the woman is unhappy with her lot? Alas, French tradition does not tell us.
What it does tell us is that the women who had been jilted banded together, lit a bonfire, and tossed in the photo of the now-accursed men. They also, it turns out, hurled insults at the male population in general. That sounds like it could be fun.
The tradition, I’m told, grew to be so popular that it was eventually banned. Of course it was. I wonder though, what would the penalty be for lighting a bonfire this St. Valentine’s Day?
How about you? How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day this year?