Valentine's Day--Its History and Traditions
Valentine's Day History and Legends
“To be your friend was all I ever wanted; to be your lover was all I ever dreamed.” --Unknown
Did you think the holiday season ended with the start of a new year? It doesn’t, of course; Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world on February 14th! I know, there’s a considerable gap between the beginning of the New Year and Valentine’s Day, but you will want the extra time in order to make this day for love and lovers a special one.
History and legends
The day is remembered in honor of St. Valentine, but there is some confusion as to which St. Valentine is honored. It is largely believed the holiday is in memory of a Roman Priest during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. It is rumored Claudius had St. Valentine put to death for secretly marrying young couples after marriage was banned in Rome in the hopes of bolstering the Roman army. It is further believed that before he was put to death, he sent a note to his jailer’s daughter signed, “From your Valentine.” However, it is sometimes said the day is celebrated in honor of a different St. Valentine, a priest held captive and eventually put to death for his refusal to revert from Christianity to Paganism. He died on February 14th, a day set aside for love lotteries. A tendency to jumble and merge the two stories is prevalent, but regardless of which legend one prefers to endorse, February 14th gradually became a day for sending expressions of love to others. In 1537, England’s King Henry VIII officially declared February 14th a holiday for the first time.
Valentine’s Day is symbolized by Cupid, the god of erotic love and beauty. Cupid was the son of the god Mercury and the goddess Venus. This tiny angel pierces the hearts of lovers with his arrows to inspire romantic love. He is typically depicted in art as a nude or diapered boy (or baby) with curly hair, wings, a bow and a quiver of arrows.
There are many historical beliefs associated with this holiday, most dating back hundreds of years. For example, in the Middle Ages it was believed that the first unmarried person of the opposite sex you saw on the morning of Valentine’s Day would become your spouse. By the 17th century, birds had become an aspect of Valentine’s Day lore. It was said that if a woman saw a robin fly overhead on Valentine’s Day, she would marry a sailor. A goldfinch predicted a millionaire and a sparrow signified a happy marriage to a poor man. These beliefs and others like them are all connected with the hope of finding true love.
The many looks of Valentine's Day
Customs and traditions
There are several customs associated with the celebration of Valentine’s Day and are intended to serve one of two functions: to tell someone special you love her/him, or create a memorable occasion to be treasured. The most popular and widely practiced tradition is to send a card or note to a loved one; ostensibly inspired by St. Valentine’s note to his jailer’s daughter. The practice became widespread in 1847, when Esther Howland developed a successful business in Worcester, Massachusetts with the sale of handmade cards. Hundreds of millions of cards are sent each year for Valentine’s Day, and this holiday is surpassed only by Christmas for the giving of cards. In contemporary America, valentines are no longer strictly declarations of love between a man and a woman—they have become a more generic expression of feelings that might apply to any friend or relative. Cards sent from women to men sometimes are “sealed with a kiss,” when lipstick is used to mark the envelope. Frequently, the card or envelope is perfumed, as well.
When a card just isn’t enough, gifts are a proper expression of love. The level of attraction can dictate what gifts are most appropriate for the occasion. If the relationship is still fairly casual, chocolates are a popular choice. Chocolates are usually presented in a heart-shaped box with a bow and offer a variety of samplings for your lover’s sweet tooth. The popularity of chocolates or truffles for this occasion may be in part because they are considered aphrodisiacs. There is no direct evidence to this effect beyond the perceived sensual pleasure of its consumption, but chocolate remains a popular gift between lovers.
For relationships with stronger bonds, flowers are traditional. The Romans believed roses were sacred to Venus, the Goddess of Love. Cupid spilled nectar into the Earth and it sprung forth in the form of a rose. The type of flower signifies different feelings, and it is important to send something appropriate. Yellow roses mean friendship, gardenias denote secret love, and orchids show beauty and refinement. Red roses, of course, are a classic way of saying “I love you.” A single red rose symbolizes new love and a dozen red roses indicate love and appreciation.
Other gifts include perfume, romantic novels, a book of love poems, and compilations of love songs or recordings of romantic movies. For the more serious couple, jewelry is a popular gift with necklaces, bracelets, charms or rings the items of choice. Men sometimes propose marriage to their loved one on Valentine’s Day, and a diamond engagement ring is offered in hopes the proposal is accepted. (Except for a wedding proposal, diamonds are overkill unless the couple is already engaged or married.) For the intimate duo, robes, pajamas or lingerie are popular gifts, and occasionally erotic literature is substituted for romantic novels or love poems.
Often the venue for presenting these gifts is a romantic dinner. Dinner with a loved one is very popular for Valentine’s Day because it can be enjoyed by both partners. Regardless of whether the meal is served at home or in a restaurant, an intimate dinner for two should emphasize ambiance with candles, soft lighting and music as the norm. The menu must suggest elegance—Valentine’s Day isn’t the time to be sawing through a pound of chicken fried steak. Fondue is a wonderful option that lends itself to romantic and leisurely dining.
When dinner just isn’t enough, couples sometimes opt for a brief escape from their everyday lives with a night in a hotel or bed and breakfast. Hotels excel at providing a romantic setting with cozy restaurants, massages, hot tubs and Jacuzzis, complimentary champagne or cider, and bed sheets adorned with rose petals or chocolates. These luxuries usually come at a price, and Valentine’s Day retreats will often be costly; but, they can be worth the price to create a special memory.
Having trouble selecting that special gift?
We’ve mentioned several Valentine’s Day traditions, but perhaps you are looking for something special and unique when a customary gift might disappoint your loved one. The meaning of love might be universal, but expressions of love encompass infinite variety. In simple language, sometimes we just flat-out don't know what to get for the one we love! I've been in this situation before--everybody has.
If you're looking for help and advice for what to give that special person in your life for Valentine's Day, I happily refer you to another web site featuring many gift ideas. The page is written by a true friend, and I eagerly recommend her taste and judgment. When it's time to think of something special, you're tired of wondering what to buy and need help, please read…
Show you care by planning ahead
Whether trying to impress a new love for the first time or celebrating a half-century of Valentine’s Days together, it is important to keep the occasion fresh with new ideas. Don’t offer the same gifts repeatedly, and never make it look as if your gift was an afterthought or hastily arranged. Love is demonstrated by care, consideration and thoughtfulness more than through a repetitive offering of cards or flowers.
I have personally presented cards, dinner invitations, chocolates, and books of poetry, roses and most other traditional Valentine’s Day gifts. My Valentine’s Day offerings have also included an oil painting of a sunset I labored over for weeks; a pen and ink drawing of my partner and I together; a CD of love songs I compiled; and, a Yoda puppet (inspired by an episode of the old television series,Taxi); Puppets notwithstanding, I am usually capable of crafting a loving and sentimental Valentine’s Day.
The best of my gifts demonstrated considerable time and effort in their giving. A drawing or painting couldn’t be done the night before, and even flowers or dinner reservations must be arranged well in advance. Restaurants fill quickly on Valentine’s Day, and florists can only deliver so many flowers in one day. To ensure your plans are not thwarted by being too late, plan ahead and act quickly—it will make a difference.
Happy Valentine’s Day! May you all know the love you yearn for within your hearts!
“We sang to the stars above and praised the earth below, you fell into my arms that night and I never let you go.” --Justin Hayward for the Moody Blues
Are you looking for another way to say "I love you?"
Dutch: Ik hou van jou
French: Je t’adore
German: Ich liebe dich
Hungarian: Szeretlek te’ged
Iranian: Mahn doostaht doh-ram
Italian: Ti amo
Russian: Ya tebya liubliu
Spanish: Te quiero
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