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Valentine's Day: What you might not---but should---know

I want the record to reflect that Valentine's Day is not, in fact, merely a Hallmark Holiday. In the heavy and heady tradition of strong capitalism and commercialism, Hallmark, Nestle, Whitman's, Disney and every other big company that can get a foot in the door of this holiday has done so. So it might seem as if it is a big scam to part a fool and his (or her) money. But it's not.

Let me go all Trivial Pursuit and Big History Geek for a moment.

Third Century AD. Rome.

This era is known as the Crisis of the Third Century, and is a period of time we should never forget due to the lessons it can teach:

Crisis of the Third Century (also known as the "Military Anarchy" or the "Imperial Crisis" ) is a commonly applied name for the crumbling and near collapse of the Roman Empire between 235 and 284 caused by the three simultaneous crises of external invasion, internal civil war and economic collapse. The changes in the institutions, society, economic life and eventually religion were so profound and fundamental, that the "Crisis of the Third Century" is increasingly seen as the watershed marking the difference between the classical world and the early medieval world, or world of late antiquity.

Obviously the time period offers a lot of fodder for discussion, especially if you want to apply it to modern superpowers/industrialized nations. But we'll save that for another day.

I'm going to focus on 268-269 specifically. Because of how the year 269 affects us all directly to this day.

Although at times it was hard to identify exactly who the actual leader of the Roman Empire was during the third century, it's generally agreed that Emperor Claudius was at the helm in 268-269.

By 268, the embattled Empire was suffering from plagues, civil war, and major invasions by the Goths. Emperors were only lasting an average of two years. Cluadius defeated other pretenders/contenders and assumed the title of Emperor in 268 (after the murder of Emperor Gallienus), all while fighting off German invasions and rebellions by Roman provinces.

The Empire was in trouble, and it needed resources. Primarily, it needed manpower. But the Romans were tired, sick and tired. Men were not joining the army.

In response, Claudius decided to ban marriage. If men weren't tied to women, hearth and home, surely they'd join the military and agree to go fight. Or so he believed.

You just can't beat down love, though.

Ending Version I: The Disney PG version okay for kids

Many people rebelled, in particular a Catholic Bishop named Valentine. He continued to marry people in secret. Unfortunately for Valentine, once the word is out, it's not so secret. It didn't take long for Claudius to learn of this, and to send soldiers to arrest Valentine. Upon his capture, he was sentenced to death.

During his time in jail, his supporters threw flowers and love notes up to his jail cell to show their appreciation for his efforts on behalf of love.

On February 14, 269, Valentine was put to death. He left a note in his cell for his friend---the prison guard's daughter---who had been kind to him during his incarceration. He signed it, "Love from your Valentine."

It was the first Valentine.

And so we celebrate the triumph of love on February 14---the feast day for Saint Valentine, now simply known as Valentine's Day---in memory and appreciation of a man who sacrificed to support relationships.

Postscript to the story: Claudius II died of the plague in 270.

Ending Version II: The Geek version

There were a large number of men named Valentinus in third century Rome. The story most likely refers to one of three men (or who knows, maybe all three):

* a priest in Rome
* a bishop of Interamna (modern Terni in Umbria in Italy)
* a martyr in the Roman province of Africa.

Their stories, including the sweet notes and flowers and friendships with jailers, are actually unknown. They may have died in 269 or 270, or slightly less likely in 273.

The holiday is truly meant to celebrate Valentine (as a feast day) however, and is not a cover for a pagan holiday.

The Disney version story above was possibly written by Geoffrey Chaucer, likely from stories floating around in the middle ages---the famed era of courtly love---which is when the feast day became a day of romance. February 14 is also the day the Parisians instituted the High Court of Love in 1400, "The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women. Judges were selected by women on the basis of a poetry reading."

Ending Version III: A Very Sad Day Indeed

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1349---At least 2000 Jews were murdered in Strasbourg.

In 1969, St. Valentine lost his day and became a myth. February 14 no longer celebrates Valentine, but is instead reserved for Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius.

We still celebrate it, though, and pass around the legend. I think it's because we enjoy fun, we like love, and everyone loves a good story.

More fun facts:

During the middle ages, people wrote their names on cloth, then placed men's names in one bowl and women's names in another bowl. They took turns drawing out the names to see who their "valentine's Sweetheart" would be. They wore the cloths on their sleeves for a week, hence the origin of the phrase "wearing your heart on your sleeve."

In the past, there was a superstition that if a woman saw a certain type of bird on Valentine's Day she'd know the sort of man she'd marry. A robin meant a sailor. A sparrow meant a poor man, but happiness. A goldfinch meant a rich man.

Hearts, keys and keyholes for Valentine's Day are a Welsh tradition. In Wales, people gave love spoons to celebrate the occasion. They'd carve these images to convey, "You unlock my heart."

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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Bones said…
wow, that's weird. Have you read my blog yet? same story. I focused a little more on the relationship between Claudius II and Aurelius, but we told the same story. Weird.

And you will be pleased to know that the little town of La Fortuna in Costa Rica still has a vesival to San Valentino every year starting the week before and ending the week after Feb. 14th. My wife and I were there for it by chance 3 years ago, and it was amazing. For valentine's day, they get a bunch of bulls and broncos and then let the drunk locals try to ride them. Juepa!
Gwen said…
Banning marriage to build an empire? Ummm .... that seems to be missing an important part of the equation.

Are you big into the V-Day thing? We go back and forth, depending on how flush with cash we feel. This year we have forgone the celebration. And I spent my day with 4 children. Only one of them was mine. One of them was vomiting all over the couch and me. That one wasn't mine. A very romantic day, for sure.
Julie Pippert said…
Bones, I just popped over. Great entry! As I said there, great minds and all that. Must be a Beverly thing. ;) May I say we LOVED Costa Rica, but must also confess we missed the San Valentino festival. Did catch the turtles though. We made the mistake of traveling with Spainards on a honeymoon (theirs, not ours...we were err let's see 7 years in at that point) (that was err seven years ago). It turns out Spanglish is a better language in Costa Rica than Castilian. I hope you went midnight canoeing. Sorry to have missed the riding of bulls.

Gwen, it is rather short-sighted, isn't it? But I figure Claudius thought if he got 2 years in as Emperor he'd beat the average for the third century dictator.
I'm not making this up (as my husband accused me). It's all mostly true as the historians whose histories maintained to the present day recorded. So to speak. ;)

Big into the V-Day thing?


I live on Death Row. AKA Hurricane Alley. On the waterfront. Flooding is a weekly occurance. I've run from the big one.

I live within my means.

It's a rough life.


As such, I carpe diem. Big time.

Today I huddled in a classroom with five children, two of whom were mine, and then took them all home with me, teacher included. We forced them all to sleep or lose brain cells in front of a TV and shared tea while folding laundry and trading quips.

The dog scented the air, post-MMs.

Real cool. ;)

My husband posted to my blog (twice!) as a romantic Valentine's gesture and I gave him a heart-shaped milk chocolate flavored treat (WTF is that?!?!) wrapped in foil with a Lab photo and caption, "I drool for you."

That's real love, my friend.

Friday I have arranged sitters for us and our friends and we are GOING OUT. I said home by midnight but then laughed semi-skeptically. So the sitter knows. That will be our celebration.

Next week of course is Mardi Gras so we'll party like Catholics before Ash Wednesday. This includes Mardi Gras parade and big party at the end of the route complete with King Cake and refreshment for the moms (I hope).

In short, I seize any and every opportunity to celebrate.

Sorry about the vomit. That's never cool. Even back in college, for example, when we planned for it.

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