By Teri Weiss
Special to The Citizen
Each year on February 14, the feast day of the “patron saint of lovers” is commemorated around world as the popular and very Valentine’s Day.
There are actually several Saint Valentines in Church history, whose lives, deaths and destinies got mixed together long ago. It is not even clear which of at least three different martyred saints named Valentinus the Church meant when in 498 AD it decided to make this day a Christian celebration.
Critics have long pointed out that today, the feast is overloaded with tales and stories, and that connections of the third century Christian saint with “the day of love and friendship” are shrouded in confusion.
Legend has it that of several martyrs persecuted for ministering to Christians, one in particular was venerated: Valentine of Rome, who healed the blind daughter of his jailer during imprisonment, and wrote her a note signed “Your Valentine” just before he was executed.
Or it may have been Valentine, Bishop of Terni, whose death around 270 AD fell on the same day as the old pagan Roman feast of “Lupercalia” celebrating Spring and Fertility.
In 18th century England, young couples started using the saint’s day to express their love with gifts of flowers and greetings (known as Valentines). Ever since then, February 14 has become a folk festival celebrating the simple message – “I care.” Exchanging greeting cards, heart-shaped gifts and sweets turned into a tradition that spread and traveled with British emigrants to North America.
Poetry and rhymes have always been the customary ingredients as well, quoted and copied forevermore, “Roses are red, violets are blue, lilies are fair and so are you” is a verse that originated in the 1700’s, and then there is Elizabeth Barret Browning’s famous 19th century sonnet that begins with, “How do I love thee? …..
It is only since the 1950’s and 60’s that Valentine’s Day has been celebrated in Germany. American military personnel and “Americanization” introduced the custom that grew into a trend here.
Having caught on to this festival’s commercial and/or sentimental aspects, Germans, celebrate with fervor: flowers, candy, cards, toys, telegrams, and increasingly, e-mails and Facebook postings galore.
One unusual aspect of the German Valentine’s Day is exchanging of “Lebkuchenherzen” – plate-sized, heart-shaped spice cakes decorated with frosting and inscriptions like “Liebling” (darling), “Mein Schatz” (my treasure) or “Ich liebe dich” (I love you), etc. Along with the full range of “romantic” Valentine’s Day gifts, cards and chocolates, these spice-cake hearts can be found in many local bakeries and grocery stores.
This year you might want to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a quaint old-fashioned way. Nothing extravagant – it’s the thought (not size) that counts). Just a small bouquet of forget-me-nots (for true love), tiny pink rosebuds (for delicate or new love), or carnations (for “you’re delightful”), or perhaps a twig of forsythia or a short branch from an apple tree to blossom in a vase, presented with a sincere handshake and/or hug, along with a hand-drawn, affectionate note or card to provide a charming, personal touch for a truly memorable Valentine’s Day.