Combine luck, legend, romance, gift-giving and the beginning of the bird mating season and you have Valentine’s Day covered. This time of year writers and bloggers delight in penning about its origins and traditions. Many stories trace back to ancient Roman and Christian practices plus some folk legends. I mainly just want to get to the flowers but learning the history is fun.
A story from the third century refers to one of the three Catholic Church’s martyred saints named Valentine who continued performing marriage ceremonies in secret, defying the Roman Emperor Claudius II’s ban. Evidently the emperor felt that single men made better soldiers, the married ones with families must not have been as focused on their soldiering career. When Claudius found out about the secret marriages he had Valentine put to death (probably by the hand of one of the single guys).
The ancient Romans observed ‘Lupercalia,’ a pagan fertility festival dedicated to the Roman god of Agriculture – Faunus. After a full day of animal sacrifices woman placed their names in an urn (hats probably weren’t invented yet) and their names drawn by the bachelor men. You can guess what happened next, either the couples ended up in marriage, or tried their luck again the following February. Pope Gelasius in the 5th century banned Lupercalia for its unchristian like conduct and re-named February 14th St. Valentine’s Day.
The “From your Valentine” expression may be from a letter written by one of the priests named Valentine who was in prison for helping Christians escape Roman prisons, where life wasn’t so grand with all the beatings and torture. Supposedly Valentine wrote a farewell letter to a young woman who visited him while in prison (he may have even had a crush on her). This particular Valentine became very popular by the Middle Ages being associated with his heroism, compassion for others and his romantic letter to his sweetie.
Who can forget the commencement of the bird-mating season in mid-February, first written about by four English authors, Geoffrey Chaucer being the most famous. In 1382 he wrote Parliament of the Fowls in honor of the engagement between England’s Richard II and Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the Roman Emperor Charles IV - “For this was on Saint Valentine’s day, when every fowl comes there his mate to take...”
The oldest known Valentine poem was written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London after the battle of Agincourt. You can actually read this poem in the British Library in London. Today there are over 150 million Valentine cards exchanged each year. E-Valentine cards are quickly gaining in popularity (sorry, just not the same as written cards).
Cut flowers, roses and all the various types of bouquets surely are the true measure of ones' feelings toward another. Charles II of Sweden in the early 1700s introduced the language of flowers where entire sentiments, practically whole conversations could take place based on the type of flowers that were exchanged. The red rose takes top billing as the symbol of beauty and love. Pink is a close second to red roses signifying appreciation, gratitude and love. White roses are associated with marriage, new beginnings and spirituality. Ah…orange roses…passion and enthusiasm while yellow means good health, joy and friendship.
You can’t go wrong sending roses for Valentine’s Day, but other cut flowers, even plants, score meaningful points too. If roses aren’t in the budget or lacking availability try tulips, chrysanthemums and carnations which also say I love you. Violets convey affection or give an orchid to communicate delicate beauty and charm. Forget-me-nots are synonymous with, well you know… forget-me nots.
Flowers and plants can evoke negativity too. Give someone a lavender plant to say you don’t trust them or you’re devoted to them (you choose the sentiment). Willows indicate sadness, receiving narcissus means you’re selfish or your love is unrequited. And careful on what you bring to a potluck, basil, the main ingredient in pesto means hatred! No worries, in other circles basil means love and well wishes.
Enjoy Valentine’s Day this year by saying it with a handwritten card and flowers. Keep Valentine flowers fresh. And if you’re concerned about sending the wrong message you can’t go wrong with a box of chocolates!