Will the real Valentine please stand up?
Yes, Virginia, there really is a Saint Valentine — although nobody’s sure exactly who he was. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine. The most popular legend holds that Valentine was a priest in third-century Rome who performed secret weddings after the emperor outlawed marriage for young men, reasoning that single guys made better soldiers.
Another legend holds that Valentine was martyred for helping Christians escape from Roman prisons. Another story has Valentine in prison, where he fell in love with the jailor’s daughter and wrote her a letter signed, “From your Valentine.”
In 1835, what are believed to be the remains of St. Valentine were given by the Pope to an Irish priest, and today they reside at Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin. (However, since Valentine is such a famous saint, and such a profitable tourism draw, there are other churches that claim to have his remains, as well.)
Why February 14?
It was Pope Gelasius who declared Feb. 14 to be St. Valentine’s feast day around 498 A.D. It could be because that’s when Valentine was martyred a couple of hundred years earlier. Or it could have been the pope’s attempt to “Christianize” an ancient Roman fertility festival.
During Lupercalia, which began on Feb. 15 — the ides of February — young women would place their names in a big urn, and young men would choose a name from the urn. The two were then paired for the year. (The women were also chased through the streets by young boys who would slap them with bloody strips of hide from a sacrificial goat, but we won’t go into that further because, really, it’s not very romantic.)
Feb. 14 is also the day that birds supposedly begin their mating season.
It’s in the cards
The oldest surviving Valentine dates to 1415; it was a love poem written by Charles, the Duke of Orleans, to his wife during his imprisonment in the Tower of London after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. He wrote her a series of poems, 60 of which are preserved in the British Library.
Exchanging valentines didn’t catch on in America until the early 1700s, and in the 1840s a woman named Esther Howland sold the first manufactured valentines.
In the halcyon, pre-factory days, lovers actually went to the trouble of making their own valentines.
Broken candy hearts
Who doesn’t like candy hearts? The folks at Despair Inc., that’s who. The company sells BitterSweets, candy hearts for the dejected, the dumped or the dysfunctional, stamped with such anti-romantic sayings as “I THEE JILT,” “U TURN ME OFF” and “KISS A FROG.”
Signs of the heart
The heart shape is one of the oldest and most common icons, used as far back as the pre-Ice Age in Europe. Graphically, it is related to signs for “fire,” “flight,” “union” and “togetherness.” It is also a variation of the Arabic symbol for the number 5.
In the Christian trilogy of faith, hope and charity, the heart stands for charity.
In Sweden, the shape is associated with the derriere, and is an old symbol for a unisex bathroom.
Cupid is as cupid does
In Roman mythology, Cupid is the son of Venus, the goddess of love, hence his connection to romance. (His counterpart in Greek myth is Eros, the son of Aphrodite.) Cupid himself fell in love once, with a mortal woman named Psyche, although their relationship suffered from an interfering mother-in-law and the tensions that arise when gods marry beneath their class. It all worked out in the end, however, and Psyche was made a goddess herself.
It was the ancient Romans who portrayed Cupid as a winged child carrying a bow and arrows, with which to pierce the hearts of lovers. It was Jeremy Piven who portrayed Cupid in the 1998 sitcom about a man who was either the Roman god of love — or a nutcase.
A rose is a rose is boring
There are other flowers that say “love” besides the ubiquitous red rose. Some alternatives, from Kate Greenaway’s Language of Flowers, a Victorian-era book that lists blooms and their meanings:
• Globe amaranth, “unfading love.”
• Cedar leaf, “I live for thee.”
• Red chrysanthemum, “I love.”
• Forget-me-not, “true love.”
• Honeysuckle, “generous and devoted affection.”
• Ivy, “fidelity, marriage.”
• Milkvetch, “your presence softens my pains.”
• Orange blossoms, “your purity equals your loveliness.”
• Peach blossom, “I am your captive.”
• Ranunculus, “you are radiant with charms.”
A kiss is just a kiss
The Hershey’s Kiss was introduced in 1907. One theory is that the candy got its name from the manufacturing equipment, which produced the drops of chocolate with a loud “SMACK.” That little strip of paper that sticks out of the top of the wrapped kiss is called a Niggly Wiggly.
Originally, Hershey’s Kisses just came in chocolate. Then they stuck an almond in the middle. Now, Kisses come in a seemingly endless variety of flavors — hazelnut, green tea, orange, lemon, coconut, marshmallow, cookies ‘n’ cream, raspberry, cheesecake — each with its own distinctive wrapper.
Looking for love
According to Yahoo! search data, some of the top-searched questions this month include:
• “When is Valentine’s Day?”
• “chocolate-covered strawberries”
• “body building workouts”
• “new iPad”
• “romantic getaways”
• “Las Vegas tickets”
• “100 best love poems”
• “love tattoos”
Men vs. women
• An estimated 110 million roses (mostly red) are sold for Valentine’s. About 73 percent of them are bought by men.
• An estimated 1 billion Valentine’s cards are sent each year. About 85 percent of them are bought by women.
• Men spend an average of $122 on Valentine’s gifts, while women spend around $50.
• About 3 percent of pet owners gift Valentine’s gifts to their animals.
— Compiled by Lisa Davis