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Front Page » February 10, 2005 » Holiday Focus » The mystery and intrigue of Valentine's Day
Published 3,599 days ago

The mystery and intrigue of Valentine's Day


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate community editor

It has often been said that Spring is when a young man's fancy turns to love. However, the most romantic day of the year seems to fall in the middle of winter, Valentine's Day. How did this happen?

The fact is no one seems to really know. The legends that surround the hearted holiday, are long, convoluted and mysterious.

Most people know that the actual name of the holiday is St. Valentine's Day, so they believe it was named after a saint in the Catholic church. However today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine, but which one was the day named after. No one knows for sure.

And what about all the stuff that goes on during that day. The secret cards that show up, the chocolates on the doorstep and the notes from secret admirers?

For some reason, despite the frigid and often wet weather, February has long been a month steeped in romance. The holiday, which in non-leap years falls directly in the middle of the month contains traditions that include Christian, Roman and pre-Christian practices.

The legends as to the start of the holiday abound. 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, who were his 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.

While Valentine was in prison awaiting his fate, he came in contact with his jailer, Asterius. The jailer had a blind daughter. Asterius requested him to heal his daughter. Through his faith he miraculously restored the sight of Asterius' daughter. Just before his execution, he asked for a pen and paper from his jailer, and signed a farewell message to her "From Your Valentine," a phrase that lived ever after.

Valentine thus become a Patron Saint, and spiritual overseer of an annual festival. The festival involved young Romans offering women they admired, and wished to court, handwritten greetings of affection on February 14. The greeting cards acquired St.Valentine's name.

The Valentine's Day card spread with Christianity, and is now celebrated all over the world. One of the earliest card was sent in 1415 by Charles, duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was a prisoner in the Tower of London. The card is now preserved in the British Museum.

Manufactured Valentine's cards did not appear until the end of the 18th Century. It began in the Victorian era. Their cards became very elaborate with lace trims, silk, and satin. Cards were also individually decorated with embellished flowers, feathers, gold leaf, hand-painted details, and sweetly scented sachets. Until the mid 1800's it cost too much to send Valentines cards in the mail. At this point in time it was the recipient, not the sender, who was expected to pay the postage. It was only in the advent of the penny post that modern Valentines' customs got so big.

Although the truth behind the Valentine legend is to a certain extent 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.

Perhaps no one will ever know the true identity and story behind the man named St. Valentine but February has been the month to celebrate love for a long time, dating clear back to the Middle Ages. In fact, Valentines ranks second only to Christmas in number of greeting cards sent in the world.

There are also other vestiges of Valentines people know little about. Cupid is a good example. In Roman mythology Cupid is the son of Venus, goddess of love. His counterpart in Greek mythology is Eros, god of love. Cupid is often said to be a mischievous boy who goes around wounding both gods and humans with his arrows, causing them to fall in love.

As early as the fourth century B.C., the Romans engaged in an annual young man's rite to passage to the God Lupercus. The names of the teenage women were placed in a box and drawn at random by adolescent men; thus, a man was assigned a woman companion for the duration of the year, after which another lottery was staged. After eight hundred years of this cruel practice, the early church fathers sought to end this tradition. They found an answer in the Roman priest Valentine who had been executed hundreds of years before.

A variety of interesting Valentine's Day traditions developed over time. For example, hundreds of years ago in England, children dressed up as adults on Valentine's Day and went singing holiday verses from door to door.

In Wales, wooden love spoons, carved with key, keyhole and heart designs, were given as gifts.

The gift of flowers on Valentine's Day (along with Mother's Day, the busiest floral holiday of the year) probably dates to the early 1700s when Charles II of Sweden brought the Persian poetical art called "the language of flowers" to Europe.

The rose, representing love, is probably the only flower with a meaning that is universally understood. The red rose remains the most popular flower bought by men for their sweethearts.

In more recent years, people have sent their sweethearts their favorite flowers, rather than automatically opting for roses. Also making the list of valentine favorites are tulips, lilies, daisies and carnations.

Today Valentine's Day is a big business, both in terms of money and in terms of social commitment. Romance may be strong in February, but it obviously lasts all year long too as these little pieces of information reveal.

•Each year 2.2 million marriages take place in the United States. That breaks down to about 6,000 a day.

•In 2003 138,600 marriages were performed in Nevada. So many couples "tie the knot" in the Silver State that it ranked fourth nationally in marriages, even though its total population in that year was 35th.

•The age for marriage is raising in this country with 25.3 and 27.1 the estimated U.S. median ages for first marriages for women and men, respectively. The age for women is up 4.3 years in the last three decades. The age for men is up 3.9 years.

•The proportion of women 20 to 24 years old who had never married more than doubled between 1970 and 2003, from 36 percent to 75 percent. Changes were also dramatic for men. The corresponding rate for men in this age group increased from 55 percent to 86 percent.

•Currently 54 percent and 57% are the percentages of American women and men, respectively, who are 15 and over and that are married.

•There were 4.6 million cohabitating couples who maintained households in 2003. These couples comprised 4.2 percent of all households, up from 2.9 percent in 1996.

•There are 118 single men (i.e., never married, widowed or divorced) who are in their 20s for every 100 single women of the same ages.

•There are 33 single men (i.e., never married, widowed or divorced) age 65 and over for every 100 single women of the same ages.

•In 2003, 24.6 pounds of candy per capita was consumed by Americans. It is believed a large portion is consumed around Valentine's Day. Candy consumption has actually declined over the last few years; in 1997, each American gobbled more than 27 pounds of candy a year.

•The combined wholesale value of domestically produced cut roses in 2003 was $52 million for all operations in 36 states, with $100,000 or more in sales. Among all types of cut flowers, roses were second in receipts to lilies ($70 million).

•There were 28,914 jewelry stores in the United States in 2002. In February 2004, these stores sold $2.4 billion worth of merchandise which is a much higher total than in the preceding month or succeeding months.


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