St Valentine's Day: Symbols and Customs
Do you know what the most popular symbols and customs of St Valentine’s Day are? Let me tell you about some of them.
As I’ve mentioned in the previous article the tradition of exchanging love notes on Valentine’s Day might trace back to the ancient Roman holiday Lupercalia. One of the customs of the young people on that day was name-drawing. On the eve of this festival the names of Roman girls were written on slips of paper and placed into jars. Each young man drew a slip. The girl whose name was chosen was to be his sweetheart for the year.
The first true Valentine card was probably written by a young Frenchman Charles, Duke of Orleans. He was captured by the English and imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. He felt very lonely in his jail cell and to fight his loneliness he started writing love poems to his wife in France. His “valentines” are now kept in the British Museum.
King Henry VIII officially recognized St Valentine’s Day in 1537 which sounds a bit ironically because he was not the most romantic of the men. The fact is he had six wives and two of them were beheaded in the Tower of London: Anne Boleyn (17 May 1536) and Catherine Howard (13 February 1542).
The early valentines were handmade and young people spent hours composing their own poems. As time passed valentine cards became more and more popular. The Victorians decorated their cards with hearts and Cupids, wild flowers, silk, lace and feathers.
When the modern postal system was set up in the nineteenth century, a real Valentine’s Day industry was found. Ready-made cards were mass-produced just as they were for Christmas and birthdays.
In America handmade valentines began to appear around 1740. They were sealed with red wax and left secretly on a lover’s doorstep or sent by mail. They were often elaborate with cutout or pinprick designs resembling lace.
Today many people send electronic valentines to their loved ones. But the person who gets an e-valentine will know who it is from! You can’t sign it “From your secret admirer”!
This is an example of the poem written by Sherry M. Winchell (age 13) on St Valentine’s Day.
I want a new life that’s easy on me
I want a new soul that I can set free
I want some wings to soar through the sky
I want a new shoulder to use when I cry
I want what’s best, though it might not be right
I want to be strong, though not wanting to fight
I want to be loved, but only if it’s true
I want a soft breeze to carry me to you.
But getting these things is just too much to ask,
And, achieving each one is too big of a task.
So there’s only one wish that I hope will come true:
That someday I’ll be together with you.
Cupid [´kju:pid] has always played a role in the celebrations of love and lovers. He is the Roman god of love and a favourite symbol for valentines, party decorations and candy boxes. He is usually depicted as a winged child carrying a bow and a quiver full of arrows.
Cupid was the son of Venus [´vi:nəs], the Roman goddess of love and beauty. His arrows were invisible and when he shot his victims, they suddenly fell in love.
In ancient Greece he was known as Eros [´iərɔs], the young son of Aphrodite [ˏæfrə´daiti].
Emotions are feelings such as love, happiness, anger or fear. A long time ago people believed that all the emotions were found in the heart. In later years they thought only the emotion of love was connected with the heart. The heart is still the symbol of love, and because of it, it is also a symbol of Valentine’s Day.
In early 1800s young British and American men sometimes wore slips of paper with their girlfriends’ names written on them pinned to their sleeves for several days, thus giving rise to the expression “to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve” which means openly show one’s feelings.
In the United States the American Heart Association holds its “Save a Heart” program during Valentine’s week. It is an anti-smoking campaign that uses the symbol of the heart to educate high school students about the health risk involved smoking.
Lace comes from a Latin word that means “to catch”. Lace was supposed to catch the heart of a loved one. Hundreds of years ago women carried lace handkerchiefs. If a woman dropped her handkerchief, a man nearby might pick it up and return it to her. Sometimes a woman might see a man she wanted to meet. She might drop her lace handkerchief to encourage romance.
Soon people thought of romance when they thought of lace. They began using paper lace to decorate chocolate boxes and Valentines cards.
This widely depends on culture, but first let’s see the formal meaning in English speaking cultures. Each of these meanings is still used in society today, so they are still valid.
- White roses are for true love
- Red roses are for passion
- Yellow roses are for friendship
- Black roses mean farewell
- Red roses mean love
- Yellow roses mean friendship
- Pink roses mean friendship or sweetheart
- White roses mean purity of the mind
- Black roses mean hate and death
Lovebirds and Doves
It is believed that birds chose their mates in the middle of February that made doves a symbol for Valentine cards. Doves were thought to be favourite birds of Venus. They remain with the same mates all their lives. The males and females both care for their babies.
When printed valentines appeared, lovebirds were featured on many of them. Today the lovebirds that appear on Valentine cards are usually tiny parrots with red bills and brilliant feathers. They are called lovebirds because they sit closely together in pairs.
Long time ago, when a man proposed marriage to a woman, he “asked for her hand”. The hand became a symbol of marriage and love. Soon gloves also became a symbol of love.
Valentine’s Love Box
To make Valentine’s Day a special affair some of my friends who now live in the USA, Connecticut came up with the following idea: Leada, a young lady, constructed a Valentine’s Love Box. She used an old shoe box. You can use any type of holder for the “box”, providing it has a lid or covering. First of all she cut out the slit in the lid and then covered the box with different kinds of paper. At this point you can let your imagination run wild. You may use cut-out hearts, flowers, cupids, and even a picture of your favourite singer.
The finished product not only make a great decoration, but also may serve to hold any type of small treat ( remember it has to fit through the slot on the top). As treats you may have small candies, mini notepads, handmade cards, erasers, chapstick, a teabag, a pen, a pencil, or perhaps a little note just to say “I love you”.
Remember: Nobody must be left out in the cold!
“to leave somebody out in the cold” means “to ignore”
And now you may watch a video “Leada’s Talk