February 28, 2017

#05-011: Valentine's Day

vintage postcard with graphic of two cherubs (Cupids?) painting a large flaming heart at center; at bottom says "To my Valentine"
A 1909 Valentine's card

Note: By all means, let's celebrate Saint Valentine--even though we don't have a clue who he really was! Come explore the mystery.

Get Ready: Do you think it's okay to celebrate a person's supposed actions, even if we're not sure he or she ever lived?

Read the "Legend of Saint Valentine" in Lesson #08-048, and read about some old Valentine's Day customs in Lesson #01-072.

It seems everyone in the world knows of Saint Valentine's Day. So it's strange that little is known of its origins. We're not even sure which of a number of people named "Valentine" is being honored!

There were several saints in the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church who were known as Valentine (or "Valentinus"), but no connection was made between them and romance until sometime well after their passing. In fact, it was not until the publication of Geoffrey Chaucer's Parliament of Birds (not as well known as his Canterbury Tales) in 1382 that we read, "For this was on St. Valentine's Day, when every bride cometh there to choose his mate." ("His" and "her" were interchangeable back then.)

Still, it took a while for the traditions we know today to get off the ground. It wasn't until the 18th century, in England, that lovers began giving each other flowers, candy, and hand-written cards. Sometime in the 19th century, stationers caught on and began mass-producing cards like the ones we give today.

All of this may have been quite a surprise to the various saints named Valentine, most of whom suffered death as martyrs. Saint Valentine of Rome, for example, is said (according to a late legend) to have performed weddings for soldiers, who in fact were forbidden to marry (the emperor wanted to keep them free of family obligations). For this he was arrested and executed.

An even dozen saints named Valentine are, or have been, commemorated on February 14, with at least seven more celebrated on other days in the year. Yet nothing is really known of any of them. In the first list of martyrs (published in 354 C.E.), no "Valentine" appears at all, even though the patron who published the calendar was named Valentinus. A later work does list a February 14 date for a saint named Valentine, but the Pope who established this feast in 496 said his "acts are known only to God"--in other words, nothing is known of him amongst humans!

By the way, for those without a sweetheart, some have proposed an alternate celebration, "Singles Awareness Day." That this may have been done tongue-in-cheek is suggested by the ersatz holiday's initials: "S.A.D."


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine%27s_Day

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. dozen
  2. ersatz
  3. forbidden
  4. interchangeable
  5. martyrs
  6. mass-producing
  7. patron
  8. saints
  9. stationers
  10. tongue-in-cheek

  1. people who died for their beliefs
  2. not allowed
  3. substitute, probably fake
  4. able to be used in place of each other
  5. a person who supports cultural projects
  6. twelve
  7. people who have been recognized as holy
  8. creating in large numbers
  9. a person who sells, and sometimes prints, paper goods
  10. jokingly

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 28, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. c; 3. b; 4. d; 5. a; 6. h; 7. e; 8. g; 9. i; 10. j