February 14, 2011

The Saintly Origins of Valentines

Written by: Rosa Morgan
Some good-meaning folk have tagged me a saint, though I am merely Valentinus, a humble priest. My troubles began when Emperor Claudius Gothicus outlawed marriage for his soldiers. Outraged, I secretively continued to perform marriages for young lovers, but my subterfuge was short lived, and I was duly imprisoned. My days and nights were long in that dark, barren cell, but salvation came not by way of spiritual epiphany, but rather the golden haired daughter of my jailer. Love blossomed the moment my eyes fell upon her innocent beauty. Alas, I knew attempts to woo the maiden were futile, but to squelch the inferno of desires within me was impossible. With my own death knell ringing in my ears, I penned a missive to the fair maiden, revealing the depths of my feelings. I signed it, “From your Valentine". The year was 269, but henceforth, February 14, the day of my death, has been a time for lovers to send their own proclamations of love.
By the Middle Ages, I was one of the most popular saints in England and France, but the practice of exchanging valentines did not truly flourish until the Victorian era. The combination of commercially produced cards, along with the 1840 establishment of uniform postal rates throughout the entire United Kingdom, brought about the change. The first valentines were decorated writing papers, like this one, folded and sealed with wax for mailing.
Embossed paper, resembling delicate lace, was the next rage. No one did it better than Esther Howland, "Mother of American Valentines". A contemporary of Emily Dickinson, Esther received an elaborate English Valentine, and was inspired to create similar ones. Ordering lace paper, she made a dozen samples for her brother, the salesman, and soon had so many orders, she recruited friends for an assembly line. Thus her cottage industry was born, with a $100,000annual profit.

Am I annoyed by the commercialization of this special day or pagan cupids flitting about? No! -->
Do we need a special day for sentimental mush, flowers and gush? Yes, yes, and yes again.
The timid at heart must be prodded, as must the smoldering embers of love be flared anew. Buy the box of candy and the bouquet of roses, and wish friend and lover, "Happy Valentine's Day"!

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