Wednesday, February 14, 2007

From the Heart

Here we are at Valentine's Day with its intense reds and pinks and its prevailing motifs of hearts, lace, flowers, candy and Cupids. This day is one of those observances in the mundane calendar year often called pejoratively a retail or "Hallmark Holiday" for the aggressiveness of commercial marketing campaigns, particularly by greeting card, jewellery and chocolate manufacturers. Whatever the trappings of this day, it is a treat to be celebrating something in the drab days of late winter, and shop windows are always a riot of colour and exuberance on this day, even if they are overwhelmingly saccharine.

The St. Valentine of February renown was one of three martyred bishops of the early Christian church, and the name "valentine" comes from the Latin word valens, meaning strength or strong. February 14th was declared a Church feast and St. Valentine's own day of the liturgical year in 496 CE by Pope Gelasius I. The pope's decree may have been an early attempt to rewrite and reconfigure the existing pagan festival of Lupercalia, which was dedicated to the lusty woodland goat-foot god Pan. On the old Attic (Greek) calendar, the whole interval from mid-January to mid-February was designated as the month of Gamelion and celebrated the marriage union of Zeus and Hera (or Juno). It was from the bawdy festivities of Gamelion that the ancient rite of heiros gamos (or sacred marriage) was derived.

We owe the romantic associations of this day largely to the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer and his work, Parliament of Foule (or fowl). Chaucer's poem has its roots in medieval traditions of courtly love - his lyrical poem was written to laud the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia. In the high middle ages, professions of love were made on February 14th, and handwritten notes were exchanged between lovers - the tradition of exchanging handwritten love notes has been long superseded by mass market greeting cards, candy (particularly chocolate), jewellery and other gifts. More than a billion greeting cards are sent out every year on St. Valentine's Day by lovers and children, and valentines seem to be more important to females of our species than males as the overwhelming majority of cards and gifts purchased for this day are by women.

Much as my tribe enjoys the pomp and circumstance of Valentine's Day, commercial notions of confining "I love you" to a single day in the calendar year make no sense to us. In the little blue house in the village, we try to do it every day and shun commercial trappings - and we make our own cards.

The School of the Seasons, Waverly Fitzgerald
Oxford Companion to the Year, Bonnie
Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens
Celestially Auspicious Occasions, Donna Henes
The Rise and Fall of Merry England, Ronald Hutton
The Dance of Time, Michael Judge

The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Charles Kightly


Anonymous said...

Hi Cate,
Beautiful design, you have not lost your touch. Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your essay. The two cards at the bottom brought a smile to my lips. The bottom one was very much in the style of my sister Kathy. Thanks for posting all of this.