The Ghost of Valentine’s Days Past
In 1951 my family moved from Atlanta, Georgia, to Cedartown—population 10,000—sixty miles northwest, and I entered the second grade in a new school. Of the many agonies of that move, one in particular–one that recurred once a year for what seemed many years, was the long, long school day that came around on February 14th, Valentine’s Day.
On that day, all other activities were eclipsed by the hourly rush to collect and count how many heart-bedecked cards and-above all-how many sweetly inscribed heart-shaped candies we had received from friends and, even at that tender age, boyfriends.
What I remember, looking back even from this distance, is simple and terrible: I never had enough. I never had as many as the other girls (was it only girls who received this bounty?).
The experience of not enough candy and cards didn’t last forever. It was replaced, some time in junior high school, by the experience of not enough—or, let’s face it—no dates. No dates in the back seats of our mothers’ cars as they drove us to the local movie theater or to the drugstore for milkshakes; no dates in the back seats of our own cars once we’d entered the one high school in town. No dates, in fact, until I was suddenly rewarded by the gods with an unexpectedly tall, handsome boyfriend, formerly an “Alfalfa” look-alike, to whom I had remained a loyal friend through all the years of candies and cards.
That was the year before the Cedartown High School Bulldogs won the State Championship.
I wore his football jacket every day my Senior year.
The History of Valentine’s Day: A Few Versions
Lupercalia was an ancient Roman festival conducted annually on February 15 under the superintendence of a corporation of priests called Luperci. The origins of the festival are obscure, although the likely derivation of its name from lupus (Latin: “wolf”) has variously suggested connection with an ancient deity who protected herds from wolves and with the legendary she-wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus. As a fertility rite, the festival is also associated with the god Faunus.
Each Lupercalia began with the sacrifice by the Luperci of goats and a dog, after which two of the Luperci were led to the altar, their foreheads were touched with a bloody knife, and the blood was wiped off with wool dipped in milk; the ritual required that the two young men laugh. The sacrificial feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs from the skins of the sacrificial animals and ran in two bands around the Palatine hill, striking with the thongs at any woman who came near them. A blow from the thong was supposed to render a woman fertile. (Brittanica Online)
St. Valentine was:
a) a priest in the Roman Empire who helped persecuted Christians during the reign of Claudius II, was thrown in jail and later beheaded on Feb. 14.
b) a Catholic bishop of Terni who was beheaded, also during the reign of Claudius II.
c) someone who secretly married couples when marriage was forbidden, or suffered in Africa, or wrote letters to his jailer’s daughter, and was probably beheaded.
d) all, some, or possibly none of the above.
The Pagan and the Christian
The modern St. Valentine’s Day celebrations are said to have been derived from both ancient Christian and Roman tradition. As per one legend, the holiday has originated from the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalis/Lupercalia, a fertility celebration that used to be observed annually on February 15. But the rise of Christianity in Europe saw many pagan holidays being renamed for and dedicated to the early Christian martyrs. Lupercalia was no exception. In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius turned Lupercalia into a Christian feast day and set its observance a day earlier, on February 14. He proclaimed February 14 to be the feast day in honor of Saint Valentine, a Roman martyr who lived in the 3rd century. It is this St. Valentine whom the modern Valentine’s Day honors.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there were at least three early Christian saints by the name of Valentine. While one was a priest in Rome, another was a bishop in Terni. Nothing is known about the third St. Valentine except that he met his end in Africa. Surprisingly, all three of them were said to have been martyred on 14th February.
Valentine’s Day 2016 Norfolk, Virginia
I woke up early. I will be spending Valentine’s Day with my nine-month-old grandson, while my son and daughter-in-law, in their mid-forties, together for twenty years, slightly stunned first-time parents, head out for a Valentine’s Day date–a secret planned by my son for his bride.
I still sometimes catch a glimpse of these two looking at each other in the same way they did in my favorite photograph from their wedding: still in love; still amazed to discover each other across a room.
At seventy, I am in love only with my grandson.
In 1866 the Necco Company, founded in 1847, designed a machine that stamped words directly onto their candies and created the first “conversation hearts”
In 2015, in the six weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, more than eight billion (some three million pounds) were sold. Sweethearts make up 40 per cent of the Valentine candy market.