A group from our church accepted an invitation to get together last Thursday in the fellowship hall of the church for a sweetheart dinner to celebrate Valentine’s Day 2019. The whole gathering was a fitting tribute for the occasion and was organized by the family of Sue and Denny Smith. I enjoyed a dinner of baked potato and stuffed chicken breast along with all the necessary trimmings. Our pastor provided vocal entertainment of favorite show tunes from our past and the evening closed with some door prizes. I came home with a quart-size “Lock & Lock” bowl that would have perfectly matched my wife’s pint size container of similar origin (if she hadn’t traded it for a candle covered with little pink hearts.)
Legend tells us that the original Valentine person was a priest who served in ancient Rome during the third century. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine did not agree with this decree and he defied the emperor by continuing to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Emperor Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
While he was being held in prison, Valentine actually sent the first written “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl – possibly the daughter of his guard – who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, legend says that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still used today.
Several centuries later, the Christian church may have decided to place a St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Around the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day but it wasn’t until much later that the day became associated with love. It was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of the mating season for little birds. That added to the idea that Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.
Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year following Christmas where an estimated 2.6 billion cards sent annually. Valentine’s Day has also become a fairly commercialized holiday, filled with the Hallmarks and other cute ones, boxes of chocolates, or a bouquet of red roses all delivered in the name of love.
I first became aware of valentine cards as a youngster guided by a highly creative mother with crafty skills that led to very artistic designs for the occasion. We also have a variety of old cards stored away in our museum closet, ones that came for others in the family over the years. With my mother’s assistance and encouragement, I got off to a great start in creating valentines for exchange in my grade school classes of that generation and those cards were a hit with my classmates. But, after a few years, that all changed!
I overheard murmurs among classmates that whispered “Jimmy is too cheap to buy cards at the store and tries to make his own.” I set out to explore the local 5 & 10 cent store to see what they were talking about; and sure enough, there were little packets of a couple-dozen or so of commercially-prepared cards that could be purchased for a quarter or so. So I decided to go with the flow and abandoned my artist’s studio at the kitchen table – never to be seen again. I also noticed that some of the early Valentine Cards in the store were rather elaborate, lacy cards that sold for $5 or more, a king’s ransom in those days, and just reserved for “special” girls.
My thoughts have also turned to the days in the classroom when teachers prepared a little box for valentines. We were always concerned that every child was treated fairly by classmates. Somehow it always seemed to come out okay, but I suspect kids went home with hurt feelings anyway. The situation hit close to home when I found an old poem in Valentine Ideals titled a “SMALL BOY DILEMMA,” that goes this way: “I bought this fancy valentine with lots of lace and stuff. Hearts and flowers all over and a verse that’s sweet enough to capture any girl in class and make her mine forever, but I’m not sure, at ten years old, which girl I think most clever!
“Some days I think it’s Mary Jane, some days I think it’s Sue; some days I look at Amy Jo, and then there’s Nancy too. How’s a fella gonna know which one of these to pick? Valentine’s Day is coming soon, and I’ve got to choose one quick! Since I’ve made this big investment in roses, lace and rhyme, I’ve got to find a girl that’s worth my dollar and my time. I’ll close my eyes and picture the one that fit’s the frame, but just to play it safely, I don’t think I’ll sign my name!”
Yesterday I stopped at the local 5 & 10 (now known as Dollar General) and looked for cards remaining from the holiday. It’s usually profitable at that time since many items are discounted. Sure enough, the cards were marked at 50 percent off. In reading over cards, I found that typical sentiments might include a poem like: “Roses are red, Violets are blue, Sugar is sweet, and so are you!” or “I loved you yesterday, I love you still, I always have, and I always will.”
The price was right, so I decided to buy the very nicest one so I’ll be ready for next year – if I can just remember where I’ve put it. After considering several options, I decided to store this card in my box of left-over Christmas cards where it should surface in plenty of time to be used next February. I carefully picked a card that didn’t actually mention the word “Valentine” so I could substitute its loving thoughts as my wife’s birthday card next fall in a pinch.
I asked my niece about the observance of Valentines Day in today’s school with all the caution about treating all kids equally. It sounds like all is well, with some modifications. The school day may also include entertainment, or a movie, and then close with the card exchange along with some sort of a special treat arranged by the teacher to guarantee that no child “is left behind.” No matter how it all plays out, there is still a risk to find another “Peanuts” cartoon’s Charlie Brown and his un-ending quest for the love of the “Little Redheaded Girl” in our local school!