“Grow old with me, the best is yet to be~”
Valentine’s Day! Hearts and flowers, chocolate and kisses, it is a day to remind ourselves of the love all around us. I remember choosing the valentines to share with my classmates as a kid. A flat box with twenty four cards, usually an assortment of at least four designs. I loved the ones that had a little velvet or glitter on the front. The smell from the mimeographed class list would waft above our dining room table as my siblings and I carefully addressed a special card for each classmate. Puppies offering kittens a nosegay, or a cute play on words with a sweet twist, it was almost as fun to give those little cards as it was to receive them. Almost. At school, our art project would be some sort of mail box to deposit the valentine cards during our class party. There were shoeboxes covered with red construction paper and paper doilies in heart shapes. There were heart pockets stapled at the edges, leaving an opening at the top. There were strips of pink and red construction paper woven and fashioned into a heart shape. The imagination of our elementary school teachers were endless. And they were smart, too, scheduling our Valentine’s Day party for the end of the day, so after we passed out cards to our friends and enjoyed cut out cookies sprinkled with sugar tinted red, cupcakes with real frosting and conversation hearts, we could load up on the school bus and head for home, letting the poor bus driver and our moms deal with the sugar overload. Smart!
I have an old valentine my grandma received as a young girl, and one my dad gave to his grandpa when he was just a tyke. Simple treasures from simple days. It made me wonder what brought us to this holiday of love, so I read a little history. It didn’t start out to be so lovely. 269 AD, found St Valentine in prison, awaiting execution for helping Christians in distress. An intelligent man with knowledge of medicine, he cured the blindness suffered by his jailer’s daughter, Julia. Just before his execution, he wrote a card to her, signing it ‘your Valentine’ and enclosed a yellow crocus. This might mark the first Valentine sent. They say she planted, by his grave, a pink blossoming almond tree, that grows there still, the symbol of abiding love and friendship.
It was Geoffrey Chaucer who added the romance to the holiday in the 14th century, “For this was on St Valentine’s Day, When every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” The poets and play writes followed, William Shakespeare and John Donne to name two. In the late 1700’s the romance of the holiday inspired a young English woman named Esther Howland to create beautiful cards of paper, ribbon and lace, to sell in her father’s book and stationary shop. In spite of high postal rates, lovers all across England were sending Valentines, and it wasn’t long before the custom crossed the Atlantic and the American cousins were exchanging sentimental messages. The Victorian age was all about brick-a-brack and gingerbread, and Valentine cards that survived from that age are truly beautiful.
In folk tradition, February 14 is connected with the coming of spring. The first bright bulbs are peeking up from their winter nap below the garden and the pussy willow trees are full of soft gray kittens holding tight to naked branches; next up green leaves unfurl. Frogs are serenading us, another herald of the arrival of spring.
This year I watched my grand-ones carefully copy names from their own class list onto their chosen Valentine, still from a flat box, still an assortment of twenty four. I am reminded of the old adage, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’!
Valentine’s Day! A day to set aside grievance and offer a hand in friendship. Sharing love and good wishes, a simple little valentine card sent from the heart just might make all the difference!