Valdosta Daily Times

February 12, 2014

Valentine’s: An early reminder, with love


The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The story goes that there were two St. Valentines: one, an Italian priest/doctor; the other, the bishop of Terni. Each one a Christian martyr, they both were executed the same day. Their stories are nearly identical, but the “Lives of the Saints” says of the priest’s tale, “Valentine ... assisted the martyrs in the persecution under (Roman emperor) Claudius the Goth. He was apprehended and sent by the emperor to the prefect of Rome who, on finding all his promises to make him renounce his faith ineffectual, commanded him beaten with clubs, and afterwards, to be beheaded, which was executed on Feb. 14, about the year 270.”

The story doesn’t exactly inspire romance, and yet, it did, accidentally anyway.

Writes Robert Hendrickson in his Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, “Feb. 14 had been associated with the mating of birds in ancient times, making St. Valentine’s Day, which accidentally fell on this date, an excellent choice for a day of lovers, the day also being fairly close to spring, when as Tennyson wrote, ‘a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.’”

From this romantic tradition associated with the death of St. Valentine, ancient custom had people drawing lots for sweethearts, think valentine cards, according to Hendrickson.

The date was also associated with the Roman

 festival of Lupercalia, a fertility rite celebrated

on Feb. 15.

 “By the end of the 18th century, the exchange of gloves and other gifts that accompanied the drawing of lots became the exchange of letters, which were sometimes secret and often humorous or insulting. These letters evolved into the valentine (cards) we know today.”

And there are those who claim the romantic ideal of Valentine’s Day has been co-opted by the forced purchase of cards, flowers, candy and jewelry. Romance works best when it is inspired by a last-minute whim — when it is spontaneous — rather than the last-minute desperation which will be evident come Friday as men fill flower shops, jewelry stores, and various boutiques.

So think of this missive as not so much an opinion but rather as a gentle, early nudge to spare as many lovers as possible the fate of St. Valentine himself. And though our Valentine reminder arrives two days early, we know last-minute desperation will still inspire most Valentine gifts.