Join Jennifer as she looks back on the legends surrounding Valentine’s Day and suggests some Sparkling Vintage ways to celebrate.
If you prefer to read rather than listen, please scroll down for a transcript of this episode.
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TRANSCRIPT OF EPISODE 26: BE MY VALENTINE
Welcome to A Sparkling Vintage Life, where we discuss all things vintage and celebrate the grace and charm of an earlier era. It’s episode 26, and it’s February 8, 2020, as I record this. I took a break from podcasting in January to polish up my forthcoming novel, Moondrop Miracle, and send it off to the editor. Now it’s with the editor, and until I get it back, I need to keep myself very busy. Otherwise I’ll keep hoping she’s loving the story while at the same time worrying that she’s hating it. Chances are, the truth falls somewhere in between, but hopefully leaning toward the positive side. So, it’s best not to think about it at all until I get her edits back.
Given that Valentine’s Day is coming up in about a week, I’d like to talk to you about that–how it’s been celebrated in the past and how you can celebrate it today. If you aren’t in a marriage or a dating relationship, please don’t tune out. This episode is for you as well.
Who is Valentine? Valentine was a priest or bishop in third-century Rome, during the reign of Claudius II. Claudius had the brilliant notion that men would make better soldiers if they were all single. Possibly he thought that men without family ties would be less distracted from military work, or even that the man wouldn’t leave a family behind if they were killed in battle. As a result of his new theory, he banned marriage for young men. This did not sit well with the young men, nor with Valentine.
Rather than go along with the new law, the friendly priest carried on with performing marriage ceremonies for the young people who sought them. This, of course, did not sit well with Claudius , who as appalled when he found out what was going on, and had poor Valentine executed. But not before, as legend has it, the jailed Valentine was able to cure the jailer’s daughter of blindness. A different Valentine was credited by healing a nobleman’s son who was choking on a fishbone. In some countries they pray to this Valentine to cure epilepsy. In fact, legend has it that Valentine was imprisoned and sent a message to a loved one signed ‘From your Valentine’.
Some believe Valentine’s Day is celebrated in February because that’s when Valentine was martyred. Another theory says that Valentine’s Day was the Christianized version of a Roman feast called Lupercalia, also held in February. This feast honored Roman deities Pan and Juno and was heavy on fertility rites. Part of the ceremony was to put the names of young women into a box, from which they were drawn at random by young men who would become their special admirers, at least in theory. Early Christians hated this practice and changed it to putting names of different saints into the box rather than young women’s names. So the young men would choose a saint instead of a woman, and aim to emulate the characteristics of that saint throughout the year. Needless to say, this custom didn’t really catch on, to put it mildly, as emulating a church father didn’t hold the appeal of being linked up with a flesh-and-blood young woman.
By the sixteenth century, all eligible young people, men and women, would select a name from the respective box. They would then be symbolically paired for the year, during which they acted as knight and lady to each other. The knight was bound to the honor and defense of his fair one, for which she repaid him in smiles and silk favors when silk was obtainable. The process was carefully watched over by parents and guardians to assure they didn’t become overly friendly.
Eventually, the custom of drawing names from boxes gave way to the selection of one’s own valentine. Writing in the late seventeenth century, Samuel Pepys recalled a custom where the first person you saw on Valentine’s day became your valentine. He tells a funny story of his wife who, wanting to assure that Samuel would be the first man she saw, and hence her valentine, kept her eyes averted all day from some painters who were doing work in the couple’s dining room. She didn’t want to clap eyes on the wrong man and end up with the wrong valentine.
In the February 1929 edition of Modern Homemaker magazine, the editor says this about valentine’s day: “Let us think and say and do the kindest things possible to and of others, rejoicing in their happiness and success as in our own. We get back in double measurement that which we give out in thought and word and deed.”
Sure, you can go out with your sweetheart and spend a lot of money on a fine dinner. But you could also throw a special party for your friends–a “galentine” party, some have called it. In the Feburary issue of 1909 issue of New Idea magazine, Mary Foster suggests a buffet that includes fruit ambrosia salad, creamed oysters in pastry hearts, and an intriguing dish called “Hearts Frozen in Jealousy,” which turned out to be individual ices molded in small heart-shaped molds, then served on pale green plates. A more modest Valentine luncheon menu, better suited for the lean year of 1933, included a fruit cup, creamed chicken in a potato puff, raspberry parfait, and pink and yellow mints.
And finally, of course, what would Valentine’s Day be without the exchange of cards? With the advent of cheaper postage, the custom arose that people of all ages, men and women, should exchange cards and letters, either comic or sentimental.
Inside London’s British Library, there is a manuscript of the first printed Valentine’s message. Fast-forward a couple hundred years, and Valentine’s Day cards started being mass-produced in their thousands. In 1840’s America, cards were being manufactured with lace, ribbons and other pretty decorations. There are now around one billion Valentine’s Day cards purchased each year, of which some 85% are bought by women. This shouldn’t be a great surprise, as women do most of the card-buying for the family. While a man may buy a card for his wife, she in turn will buy one for her husband, as well as her children and grandchildren and other random relatives and friends.
And that brings me to my point today, which is that nowadays, Valentine’s Day belongs to everybody. No longer is it simply a holiday for romantic partners. I encourage you to spread some love to your friends and neighbors, perhaps a lonely teen or elderly person of your acquaintance. Buying cards and candy is big business this time of year, but you don’t have to participate in the buying frenzy if you don’t want to. Design and write your own cards, bake some homemade bits of goodness to share. Or don’t buy anything at all, but make a phone call to brighten someone’s day, or do an act of kindness or of service to make someone feel cared for and cherished. Recently I saw a suggestion to visit and animal shelter on Valentine’s Day and give the animals some love and attention, and maybe a donation of toys or blankets or food. Being an animal lover myself, I think that’s a lovely idea.
If you observe Valentine’s Day, what’s your favorite way to celebrate? I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to leave a comment at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast under Episode 26.
Today’s grace note is a poem called An Old Valentine written by Grace Noll Crowell. It appeared in the February 1933 issue of Needlecraft magazine, and it struck me as something that would appeal to all you Sparkling Vintage spirits out there.
An Old Valentine
by Grace Noll Crowell
No shop today holds anything as fine as this old valentine.
The years have yellowed its frail lace,
But still–a shepherdess with airy grace
stands tiptoe at the water’s brink.
Her hair is gold, her cheeks are pink,
her fluted ruffles, blurred by time, once were
a lovely lavender.
Dainty and sweet she stands, and there across the stream,
with outstretched hands,
A shepherd boy
with laughter on his lips, his hair a-toss,
is reaching eagerly to help her cross.
Years come and go–loves flame and die,
and many a silver stream runs dry.
But never this…the stepping stones remain.
These two are sweethearts still.
The rust and stain have left undimmed the luster and the shine
of young love, in this sweet old valentine.
Happy Valentine’s Day. And thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this podcast, be sure to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you subscribe to your favorite podcasts. And check back soon when I’ll share another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.