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Monday, 15 February 2010

Valentine's Day - what did you do?

So, what did you make of yesterday? It was, of course, St. Valentine's Day. In modern times this is a day for lovers to exchange special gifts but what does it REALLY mean today?

There is confusion about the origins of this day. In history there are several saints called Valentine (or Valentinus) who were martyred in Rome. In ancient times this was a common name from the Latin 'valens' meaning 'strong'.

However, there is one saint in particular who is the most likely candidate to have given his name to this day. This Valentinus was martyred for marrying Christian couples (thus supporting and allowing the spread of this new religion) and even, on occasion, for presiding over the marriage of a Roman soldier with a Christian woman. It is said his death was very drawn out – supposedly he was first beaten with clubs, then stoned, and then, as he still hadn't died, beheaded. The last one did the trick and he was dead afterwards. Dates are fuzzy but this apparently happened somewhere between 269AD and 273AD – either that or it took him 4 years to die.

I wonder what he would make of this festival today.

Of course, big business is overjoyed every time we have a 'special day'. The greetings card industry makes millions and florists look forward to them eagerly. Another winner is the chocolate industry. A traditional offering between couples seems to be chocolates and flowers for almost any special occasion. I just wonder how many billions are spent every year on these items. Of course, there are so many good causes in the world today it's easy to say the money could be better spent. However, can you imagine the workaholic father coming home, late as usual in spite of all the promises as he left in the morning, to the family he hardly sees (because he's always at work) and instead of presenting the anticipated offering to prove he remembered the special day and DOES want to say he loves his wife, telling her he would have liked so much to bring chocolates and roses but decided it was better to give the money he would have spent on these to the poor/homeless/children with cancer/etc etc etc. She would certainly NOT be impressed, I'm sure. So, he goes for the safe option and buys the necessary gifts on the way home - or, if he is lucky enough to have a secretary, gets her to buy them for him. At least that's one supper that is served with tenderness and a glass of wine rather than burnt or in the bin before he gets there. There is even the possibility of sharing a romantic dinner for 2 in an expensive (but overcrowded tonight) restaurant during which there are lame attempts to rekindle conversations not normally held because the couple hardly see each other.

Women, it seems, are not automatically expected to deliver a gift to the loved one. It's enough to cook a lovely meal for when he comes home or to be dressed up and looking one's finest ready on time (for a change instead of half an hour late as usual) to go for the romantic meal in the special restaurant he has chosen for this exquisite wining and dining experience.

In short, everything is done to try and ensure a state of peace and harmony to share this special day and try to rekindle the feelings that couples had for each other when they first met and which seem to have rusted with age. This day provides an opportunity to get them out and polish them – with any luck they will stay bright and shiny for a long time to come.

Of course, there are couples out there for whom this is a genuinely loving and moving experience whose feelings for each other have not yet become staid with age and I do not want to deter them. You love each other and you want to show it so do. In fact, show the world. Enjoy the meaning of the day.

And, of course, they are both expected to give each other cards. It would seem that the Valentine's Card was the original greeting card. It is all rumoured to have started back in 1415 when, after the Battle of Agincourt, a Frenchman called Charles who was the Duke of Orleans was imprisoned in the Tower of London and wrote romantic poems and rhymed love letters to his wife in France. Others got to know about this and the practice caught on becoming ever more popular. The first commercial hand-made cards were available in the early 1800s. The first manufactured cards arrived on the scene around the end of the 1800s/early 1900s.

Today, Valentine's Day is the second largest card sending day in the year with over 1 billion cards sent. The only day to claim more card sending is Christmas.

Yesterday led me to recalling some of my own Valentine's Day experiences. One that comes to mind happened when I was just 16 years old. I had sent Valentine's cards before that but this year was particularly memorable. I was dating someone. In common with most girls of that age, my feelings were particularly intense and I believed this boy, also just 16, was the love of my life, my knight in shining armour, the only one in the whole world ever. Just like many others of that age I decided I wanted to test him somehow. Therefore, on Valentine's Day I decided to send him two (yes, two) cards. Now back then, cards were always sent anonymously so the trick was to make sure that the card could not be traced back to you. It was common for friends to write the addresses on the envelopes for each other and the post could be relied upon in those days, unlike now, to deliver on time. Now this poor guy was in a "Catch 22". When I asked him if he'd received any cards he couldn't say "no" because he knew I'd have been certain to send him one. He also couldn't say he'd received more than one because he would think I would want to know who else he had been seeing when, in fact, he was innocent (or at least I think he was). But, if he said he'd only received 1 card I would accuse him of lying because I would know I had sent 2. So, he just couldn't win. He did present the necessary gifts (flowers and chocolates) and we did date for another 2 years before going our separate ways so I suppose it wasn't so tough after all.

I think the most futile Valentine's Day in my life has to be the year my son was born. He arrived on 27 February and will be 32 on his birthday this year. At that time I was still married to his father and we were living in Spain. On Valentine's Day my husband gave me a beautiful card, declared his undying love and anticipation of the imminent arrival of our son, bought me flowers and chocolate AND took me out for a romantic meal. The memory is, however, a little soured by the fact he left me 6 weeks later when he ran off to South Africa with the daughter of our best friends. She was only 15 and already 3 months pregnant by him – it seems the 'affair' had been going on around 6 months after she developed a teenage crush on him.

Probably the most poignant Valentine's Day was about 10 years ago. I was with someone I really loved and I know he loved me too just as much. We did all the normal things together on that day. We had been together for about 12 years and had the sort of relationship where we couldn't bear to be apart. For example, on the way to work each day we'd call each other, during breaks we'd call each other, at lunch (I had an hour and he had 30 minutes) I'd drive 20 minutes to spend 20 minutes with him and drive 20 minutes back to work. We were constantly reaffirming our love for each other no matter what day it was. A few days after Valentine's Day we went to a travel agent and booked a skiing holiday together for 4 weeks later. We never went skiing together. Just over a week after Valentine's Day he died very suddenly of a massive heart attack. I am lucky that we had such a good relationship with so many happy times together to remember; that we had not argued and I have no regrets about things I should/should not have said or done before he died.

This year was a very quiet Valentine's Day which I spent alone. I have been seeing someone on and off for a while. He always says the right things but does not back this up with the right behaviour and I've been disenchanted with the relationship for several months now. Yesterday I ended the relationship. He DID remember Valentine's Day but I am no longer interested in a false show of something that he does not feel inside. Believe it or not, I don't feel at all sad about this. I actually feel really good today and have no regrets at all about finishing things on Valentine's Day.

I believe if you love someone you should show it every day in every way. You don't need Valentine's Day to remind you. When my parents were alive my father brought my mother chocolates OR flowers every Friday without fail on his way home from work. Even after he retired he continued to buy her these gifts every week. I was very lucky to be brought up by a couple who loved each other so completely that every day was a Valentine's Day.

It just goes to show you don't need all the hype to show you care. Nonetheless, I hope everyone enjoyed the day.

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