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02-14-04: A day for sweethearts

Through the ages, words of love have been exchanged in a special way

Today, sweethearts are exchanging lacy cards, romantic verses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. All because of Lupercalia Day.
Modern Valentine’s Day evolved from the ancient Roman feast of Lupercalia, a fertility festival to honor Pan (the Greek equivalent of the Romans’ god Faunus), the god of the forests, fields, wild animals, flocks and shepherds.
Lupercalia began the seasonal time of ritual purification that prepared the Romans for spring. The priests of Faunus (known as the Luperci) would traditionally run half-naked through the streets during Lupercalia carrying a goat skin with which they would try to smack everyone they passed.
Numerous legends exist on how the name for St. Valentine’s Day came to be.
The Norsemen claim it’s from their St. Galatin’s Day. Apparently the Normans pronounced “g” as “v.”
The French say it’s from their word galantine, meaning a lover or gallant.
Unhappy with the pagan Lupercalia and other such festivals, the Catholic Church chose Valentine, who had been beheaded in AD 270 by Roman Emperor Claudius.
Claudius believed married men were not good soldiers and banned marriage from the empire. Valentine, a Catholic bishop would secretly marry young couples who came to him. This angered Claudius and he first tried to convert Valentine to paganism. But that plan failed so the emperor ordered Valentine stoned and beheaded.
However, it came by it’s name, the evolution of St. Valentine’s Day with its exchange of cards, candy and flowers was, no doubt, a welcome change from those former goat-skin lashings.
But this is not to say all valentine cards were sweet and loving..
In her book, Sweethearts & Valentines, valentine card collector Judith Holder writes there was, in the late 1800s, “a tremendous vogue for vulgar and sometimes genuinely spiteful cards.”
There were cards from the “other woman” calling her rival a “snake in the grass” or listing personal insults.
One Valentine of the day (again late 1800s) warns the receiver to beware of marriage.
“Some wed for gold and some for pleasure,
And some wed only at their leisure,
But if you wish to wait and weep,
When e’er you wed,
Look well before you leap.”
The enduring symbol of love and thus a favorite at Valentine’s Day is the rose, but at one time apples were token of love. However, the true “love apples” were tomatoes, which residents of Spain believed to be a love potion. Many old Valentine cards featured tomatoes.
The first Valentines were made in England and and the first such cards appeared in the United States in the mid 1700s. They were handmade, sealed with wax and left in secret on the receiver’s doorstep.
One account traces the first valentine to 1415 when Charles, duke of Orleans, sent one to his wife. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Another says the oldest valentine letter/card was from an English lady, Margery Brews sent to John Paston in 1477.
These old Valentines are from the collection of Cassie Wilson, New Bremen, and are on display at the St. Marys Community Public Library. Photos are by Janie Southard.


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