Be My Valentine?

My glass heart collection in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

My glass heart collection (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

For those thinking the Valentine tradition stems from a romantic history, you might be surprised to discover the holiday is based more on perplexing folklore than passionate liaisons. The confusion starts with two different Valentine contenders; Saint Valentine of Rome who was persecuted for performing forbidden weddings, and the lesser known Saint Valentine of Terni.  Although all the legends seem somewhat discombobulated, it appears that both saints possessed sympathetic, heroic and romantic tendencies, which evolved into Saint Valentine’s vast popularity in Europe.

Even the date chosen for celebrating Valentine’s Day is shrouded in mystery.  Some feel that the middle of February was chosen to honor the burial date of Saint Valentine of Rome, while others feel the date was meant to compete with a pagan celebration called Lupercalia, which took place on February 15.   In pre-Christian Rome, Lupercalia was considered a fertility festival in honor of the shepherd god, Lupercus, and Faunus, the god of agriculture.

Cupid contemplating romance in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Cupid contemplating romance (Image:

According to legend, the Lupercalia festivities began with an order of Roman priests (called Luperci) that gathered in a sacred cave where a goat and dog were sacrificed; the former to enhance fertility, the latter for purification.  The goat’s hide was then cut into strips, dipped in sacrificial blood, wiped upon the village women and dripped onto the crop fields.  This welcomed practice was believed to make both the women and the fields more fertile.  Later in the day, young women would place their names in a large urn and wait to be chosen by an eligible bachelor (I wonder if they washed off the goat’s blood first?).  Sometimes these random pairings resulted in marriage.

White Doves in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

White Doves (Image:

Although Lupercalia was eventually ceased by the end of the 5th century, the enduring February 14th celebrations of Saint Valentine’s Day were not immediately associated with love and romance; instead, the first Valentine love poems don’t appear until the early 1400’s.  The oldest known valentine in existence today was written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife.  (This greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.)

Antique Valentine Card in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Antique Valentine Card (

By the 18th century, Valentine’s Day began to be celebrated more traditionally, with flowers, sweets and Valentine cards.  At that time symbols such as doves, heart shapes (originating from parchment hearts given to soldiers to remind them of God’s love), and Cupid (Cupido, Latin meaning desire, is the god of love, attraction and affection, son of the love goddess Venus ).  In the 1840’s,  Esther Howland (known as the Mother of the Valentine), began selling the first manufactured valentines using real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures.  Since the 19th century, intricately handmade valentines have evolved into “mass-produced” greeting cards which are popular throughout the world.  According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion valentine cards are sent each year, with approximately 85% purchased by women.  (Yikes gentlemen, you’ve got some catching up to do!)

The rose is red, the violet’s blue, The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine; I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew, And Fortune said it shou’d be you~

Gammer Gurton’s Garland (1784)

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