“Everybody wants a box of chocolates and a long stem rose; everybody knows.”
– Leonard Cohen
The 14th February. Valentine’s Day. A single day in the calendar that invokes both fear and joy in many of us. But before our thoughts start to dwell dreamily in anticipation, let’s take a step back to the origins of what is now a highly important date (and hugely profitable for some) in our calendar, that apparently sees in excess of 503 million cards, chocolates and flowers delivered to suitably delighted, or bemused, recipients.
My research tells me Valentine’s Day stems from a pagan fertility festival. In the 5th century, in Rome, Pope Gelasius adopted the festival, changing it to a feast and moving the date to the 14th February. So who was Valentine? Well originally a saint, there are a few rumours surrounding this: one of the romantic ones being that it was in recognition of a priest who continued to marry Roman soldiers in quiet defiance of the Emperor Claudius II, who believed his army were more formidable as singletons. Anyway, when eventually found, this poor chap was put to death. However, it is more likely to derive from Christian love as opposed to romantic love and about an individual who was martyred for not denouncing his religion.
So, to England and in the 14th century, Valentine’s Day became associated with love in the UK, upon the writing of a poem for Richard III’s marriage to Anne of Bohemia. This poem established the link between St Valentine’s Day, love and… mating birds… ah, Love Birds!
My search leads me to some more interesting facts. Apparently the 14th February officially signified the start of spring and when birds chose their mate. They also featured heavily in Valentine’s Day traditions: the type a woman saw on the day allegedly foretold the status of her future husband. Another belief was that – for single women I hastily add – the first man she saw on St Valentine’s Day would be her future husband. Presumably he will be single too.
So, Valentine’s Day 2014 – the Saint has been dropped in recent times – looms ominously and I cast my mind back to the most ‘interesting’ gift I have ever received. A chilli plant. Yes – apparently because I was ‘hot’ – incidentally the plant died. But I’m an old romantic and will settle for the traditional, anonymously sent card – with the writing I can’t mistake – and the single red rose that will follow. Happy Valentine’s Day!
– Maxine Dye
…and then there’s Mother’s Day and Easter…
Early Spring announces its arrival with a profusion of spring flowers, beautiful and seemingly delicate, but actually tough as old boots to withstand our fickle weather.
Mother’s Day would see me bringing my mum a cup of tea in bed, a fistful of these unfortunate flowers plucked excitedly from the garden and ‘arranged’ in a vase on the tray. That was all a long time ago, but such special occasions continue to be marked by similarly creative and individual gestures by following generations. Making a gift, or giving something that is handmade, and thus unique, not only brings more pleasure but ensures the continued growth of artistic and creative endeavour. The morning tea tray of life would be a lot poorer without it. –Ed
pictured: ‘Love’ Valentines portrait card design by Iris Hill