January 31, 2012

It's almost Valentine's Day and

you know what that means: On February 14, millions of tiny naked boys with wings will shoot arrows of love down from the heavens into the shoulders of mere mortals like ourselves. It means: pull out the stops and gather all manner of paraphernalia in your endeavor to celebrate The One You Adore! Chocolate! Stuffed bears! Flowers! And don't forget a Hallmark Card, since Hallmark invented this holiday in the first place, right?

Actually, contrary to popular belief Hallmark did not invent Valentine's Day. While it's true that since 1913, when Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Mo., began mass producing valentines, February has never been the same, the beginnings of this tradition precede the Industrial Revolution, the Renaissance, and even the Dark Ages. To find the origins of Valentine's Day, which are not as syrupy as you might think, we date back to Ancient Rome. 

The people of Ancient Rome celebrated a festival between February 13-15 called Lupercalia with the intention to avert evil spirits and purify the city, thus fostering both health and fertility. But while the Romans were romantic, they were also drunk, and also naked, claims Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Their rituals, although well-meaning, began with the sacrifice of a goat and a dog, and then women would line up waiting for their turn to get whipped with the animals the men had just slain. It was their belief that this would make them fertile. This festival also included a kind of matchmaking lottery, in which men would choose at random a woman's name from a jar. The pair would then be coupled for the duration of the festival, and longer if the match was right.

Our favorite Valentine's icon Cupid can also be traced back to this period, as the son of Venus (Goddess of Love) and Mars (God of War). This God of Desire was a prominent figure in Latin literature, playing instigating roles in several myths and scenarios. Further, the Roman emperor Claudius II executed two men, both named Valentine, on February 14 of different years in the third century AD. These executions may or may not be responsible for our modern holiday's name.

It was not until centuries later that the holiday was sweetened by Chaucer and also Shakespeare, who both romanticized it in their work. It gained popularity in Britain and throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, along with Cupid, who under Christian influence became a symbol of both Heavenly and Earthly love. At this time, handmade paper cards were the ultimate token of celebration, after the advent of mass paper production around 1100AD. It was not until the 1800s that factory-made cards were introduced to Europe and the New World, better known as America, and it was not until 1913 that Hallmark pushed their brand of Valentines into the hands and hearts of lovers everywhere.

I've never been a big fan of cutesy rhyming verse, but if I had to choose between Hallmark poems and being beaten with an animal corpse by a man who may or may not pull my name out of a jar and become my husband, I would choose the former. I feel very grateful that the latter is not part of cultural protocol these days because the timeless, sacred poetry of nature has always struck me as the best messenger. Whether we take into account all the myriad folkloric meanings of flowers or not, the twist and lilt of a bunch of tulips or the intelligent and exacting spiral of a rose's petals will say more to me in one instant than a hundred Hallmark cards. Flowers say I Love You the best because they don't need to say anything at all: they already are love, plain and simple.

2 dozen roses with cymbidium orchids
Valentine's Day is Tuesday February 14, 2012. Trust your I Love You into our capable hands. We'll put something together for your sweetheart that would make anyone speechless.

From all of us at Anne Paterson's, WE LOVE EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU

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