Pat Blythe – St. Valentine…A Little History
Valentine’s Day and it’s all over Facebook, Instagram, Twitter….every nook and cranny of social media, peeking quietly out of the shadows or screaming in your face. The stores began leading up to it the second Christmas was over. For many the day is the perfect time for a celebration of each other, a reconnection and strengthening of the bonds of togetherness. A special day set aside so they can canoodle to their hearts content. For others it’s a painful reminder they are alone whether by choice or happenstance…and there are many others who simply don’t care….it’s just another “Hallmark” day.
Directed at us single folk, many posts and messages suggested sending the love out to family and friends. Ya …maybe …ummm …no. Somehow that’s just not quite the same. Valentine’s Day is not a “love thy neighbour” day or “appreciate family” day (there’s already a day for that). No, February 14 is firmly focused, with laser-like intensity and precision, on lovers and that little winged guy with the bow and arrow…..and chocolate….lashings and lashings of chocolate.
I’m Not In Love – 10CC
The legend of St. Valentine…..
Named for a Christian martyr dating back to the 4th or 5th century, Valentine’s Day also has origins in the Roman holiday Lupercalia. Containing vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition, the history of ‘hearts day’, and the story of its patron saint, is somewhat shrouded in a cloud of mystery. Could it be the priest Valentine who, during the third century in Rome, continued to marry young lovers in secret against the wishes of Emperor Claudius II, who had decided single young men made better soldiers that married ones? When Valentine was discovered Claudius had him put to death. Or, could it be the Valentine who helped Christians escape the brutalities of Roman prison? Then there was the imprisoned Valentine who had fallen in love with the jailer’s daughter. Just prior to his death, it is alleged he wrote her a love letter signed “from your Valentine”, an expression still used almost 2000 years later. By the 13th century, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.
Funny Valentine – Ella Fiztgerald
Celebrating St. Valentine in the middle of February was thought to commemorate the anniversary of his death or burial. There is also the distinct possibility it was decided by the church to “Christianize” the celebration of the pagan saint Lupercalia, which was observed at the ides of February (or February 15). A fertility festival, Lupercalia was dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture as well as to the two founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. This according to Encyclopedia Britannica; “Lupercalia, an ancient Roman festival…conducted annually on February 15 under the superintendence of a corporation of priests called Luperci. The origins of the festival are obscure, although the likely derivation of its name from lupus (Latin: wolf) has variously suggested connection with an ancient deity…and with the legendary she-wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus.”
The famous statue of the she-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus, the two founders of Rome
…and then there’s Cupid
Cupid, or Cupdio in Latin means ‘desire’. As the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection, Cupid is often thought to be the son of Venus, goddess of love, and the war god Mars. Mars in Latin is also Amor (love). Mars’ Greek equivalent is Eros. Whomever Cupid’s parent are, the winged sprite is the most famous and instantly recognizable symbol of Valentine’s Day. In many drawings, portraits and even cartoons, Cupid is often depicted as a mischievous, winged child. He began as a tall, lithe, rather handsome, winged young man during Greek times and somehow “morphed” into a cherubic young boy, or in some cases, a flying toddler. Today, we are more familiar today with the latter. “Cupid is winged, allegedly because lovers are flighty and likely to change their minds; boyish because love is irrational.” The arrow and torch are his symbols because “love wounds and inflames the heart.” “Cupid carries two kinds of arrows, one with a sharp golden point, and the other with a blunt tip of lead. A person wounded by the golden arrow is filled with uncontrollable desire, but the one struck by the lead feels aversion and desires only to flee.”
Cupid – Sam Cooke
Cupid – The Spinners
(The cartoon is great)
…and the heart shape
The heart shape is synonymous with love and Valentine’s Day. A symbol of romantic love and affection, the history of how the iconic pictogram came about is also rather obscure. Everything from the shape of the ivy leaf to being modeled after breasts and buttocks (I’m not really seeing that) has been suggested. History.com comes up with a more straightforward, and believable answer. “…the heart shape may have been born when artists and scientists from the Middle Ages attempted to draw representations of ancient medical texts…Since the human heart has long been associated with emotion and pleasure, the shape was eventually co-opted as a symbol of romance and medieval courtly love. It grew especially popular during the Renaissance, when it was used in religious art depicting the Sacred Heart of Christ and as one of the four suits in playing cards. By the 18th and 19th centuries, meanwhile, it had become a recurring motif in love notes and Valentine’s Day cards.”
Fool’s In Love – Joe Jackson
…and the cards
The exchange of handmade valentines began in the early 1700s. However, according to History.com, “the oldest known Valentine still in existence today is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.” Today, approximately one billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent every year, and women purchase 85 percent of all valentines. It is the second largest card-selling holiday of the year…..Christmas being number one.
The Things We Do For Love – 10CC
…chocolate and roses
Chaucer’s 1382 writings were the first to associate St. Valentine’s Day with romance. During medieval times, the “art of courtly love”, illicit but chaste, became popular, particularly in the castles and manor houses among royalty and the elite. Knights and gentlemen began presenting roses to the maidens of their choice and celebrated their beauty with songs and poems. By Victorian times, the celebration of romantic love on February 14 had “swept the English-speaking world” and “the object of one’s desire was showered with elaborate cards and gifts.”
Enter Richard Cadbury. Like De Beers and their 1947 “A Diamond is Forever” campaign (associating the diamond with love and commitment) years later, Cadbury recognized an excellent marketing and sales opportunity for the new “eating chocolate”. He himself designed the beautifully decorated boxes with the familiar faces of Cupid and roses and was probably the first to use a heart-shaped box. “Cadbury marketed the boxes as having a dual purpose: When the chocolates had all been eaten, the box itself was so pretty that it could be used again and again to store mementos, from locks of hair to love letters.” From then right through to present day, the sales of roses and chocolate are at their highest, worldwide, in February.
The colour red is also befitting the day. A deeply passionate colour….the colour “of blood and fire….associated with love, desire, heat, longing, lust, sexuality, sensitivity, romance, joy”, as well as “strength, leadership, courage, vigor, willpower, rage, anger, danger, malice, wrath, stress, action, vibrance, radiance, and determination.” (BourneCreative) Perfectly associated with Valentine’s Day.
History has produced a number of great romantics and romances — Shah Jahan, who commissioned the Taj Mahal in honour of his wife; Anthony and Cleopatra; Giacomo Casanova; Cyrano de Bergerac; Tristan and Isolde; Guinevere and Lancelot; of course Oliver and Jenny from the movie Love Story; but the greatest love story of all time….Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The sad and haunting tale of the young teenage couple has become a timeless and enduring symbol of great love. Truly “til death do us part.” To this day, no one has been able to recreate Franco Zefferili’s 1968 masterpiece.
A Time For Us – Nino Rota (Theme from the 1968 movie Romeo and Juliet)
Whatever you believe…. adoration, passion and beauty….rejoicing in new beginnings or celebrating lasting relationships….lusting, loving or admiring from afar….red roses and red hearts….St. Valentine ties all this together into one sweet, deliciously romantic day. A single day representing love, your heart’s desire and hope for the future.
As I wrap this column up, I pause to quietly acknowledge that today February 15, 1986 was my wedding day. Although Chris and I always felt the important date was December 1, 1979, the day we moved in together, today would have been our 31st wedding anniversary We were married at the top of the CN Tour in Sparkles which was, at that time, an extremely popular disco. I remember one of Chris’s close friends, Doug Reid, wanting to begin a speech with “it was appropriate that Chris was married in a place that’s higher than he is”. How true for the times and it still makes me laugh. I leave you with one of Chris’s favourite songs.
Just You and Me – Chicago
Bits and Pieces and club updates will be back next week.
History.com, Wikipedia, Cadbury’s, YouTube, Encyclopedia Britannica
Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.
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“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence — 33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance!