Valentine's Day Love Traditions
By John Shepler
Je t'aime, Moi oiy neya, Ich liebe Dich, Ti amo, Saya cinta padamu, Te quiero, Seni seviyo*rum, Eg elskar deg, Kimi o ai shiteru, Mai tumase pyar karata hun, Mahal Kita. It's the language of love around the world. French, Cantonese, German, Italian, Indonesian, Spanish, Turkish, Norwegian, Japanese, Hindi, Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines, or, in English, "I love you."
Is February the month of love? Well, it certainly is if you count the chocolates, the cards, the roses and the special dinners all centered around one day, Valentine's Day, February 14. The romantic inside us finds new energy in the midst of winter's doldrums. Poets take pen to paper (or nowadays keyboard to email) and sweet words flow in streams of eloquence. Like spring tulips blooming above a blanket of late snow, the colors of St. Valentine's Day are red and white.
We owe our valentine traditions to Saint Valentine, a priest in Rome during the rein of Emperor Claudius II in the third century. Claudius was also known as Claudius the Cruel, for reasons you'll soon see.
It seems that Claudius was frustrated in his efforts to expand the army of Rome because nobody wanted to volunteer. The men of the 60's, the 260's that is, had an philosophy of "make love, not war." Too few wanted to leave their wives and families to embark on military expeditions for Claudius, where they would be gone for months or years and may never come back. Finally, Claudius ran out of patience and used his powers as emperor to ban engagements and marriages in Rome. He fiendishly reasoned that if the men couldn't get married it would be easier to lure them into the service.
Young people were outraged and continued to get married in secret, providing they could find a willing priest. Valentine was one of a few who supported them. He met with couples in private candlelit rooms where they would exchange vows in hushed tones, always fearful of discovery. Finally, it happened. Valentine was found out and hauled before the Prefect of Rome who condemned him to death. As he awaited execution, his admirers would come to the jail with flowers and notes of support. One of his most ardent supporters turned out to be the daughter of the prison guard, who would talk with Valentine for hours and try to keep his spirits up. The day he was to die, February 14, 269 AD, Valentine wrote her a note of thanks for her friendship and loyalty and signed it, "Love from your Valentine."
Ironically, Claudius had executed Valentine on the holiday that honored Juno, the Roman goddess of women and marriage. The festival of Lupercalia followed, where boys drew the names of girls from a jar and paired up for the festivities. In the year 269, the name Valentine would be forever linked to this romantic time. In 496, Pope Gelasius set aside February 14 to honor him as Saint Valentine and it has been St. Valentine's Day ever since.
Other traditions developed over the centuries. In the Middle Ages, both men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their valentines would be. They would wear the names on their sleeves for a week. Now, to wear your heart on your sleeve means others can easily see your feelings.
In the 1600's, a language of flowers developed in Constantinople and in the poetry of Persia. Charles II introduced the Persian poetry to Europe, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu brought the flower language from Turkey to England in 1716. It spread to France and became a handbook of 800 floral messages known as the Book Le Langage des Fleurs. Lovers exchanged messages as they gave each other selected flowers or bouquets. A full red rose meant beauty. Red and white mean unity. Crocus said "abuse not", while a white rosebud warns that one is too young for love. Yellow roses were for jealousy, yellow iris for passion, filbert for reconciliation and ivy for marriage.
The message would grow in complexity with combinations. A full rose placed over two buds meant secrecy. Remove the thorns from a rosebud and you say "I fear no longer." Remove the leaves also and your message becomes "There is nothing to hope or fear." Want to say "Your unconscious sweetness has fascinated me"? Then offer a Lily of the Valley and Ferns.
Roses have endured as the traditional flower of Valentine's Day, and perhaps we also owe that to the Romans. In legend, a woman, Rodanthe, was pursued by many suitors who finally became so impassioned they broke down the doors of her house. This enraged the goddess Diana, who turned the woman into a flower and her suitors each into a thorn. Perhaps that's where we also get the expression "a thorny situation."
I wish you the best of luck and love on this Valentine's Day.
If you'd like to enhance your message of affection to that special
one, perhaps one of these expressions of I love you will sound
just right. Wo ai ni, Obicham te, I mog di narrisch gern, Ek
het jou liefe, Ti tengu cara, Tangsinul sarang ha yo, Ja cie
kocham, Te iu besc Ich libe dich, or Mena Tanda Wena.
Also visit these related sites:
These sites will take you out of A Positive Light. Use your browser's back button to return here.
History of Valentine's Day - The events in early Rome that led to our modern day of romance.
"I Love You" - How to say those three little words in languages from around the world.
The Victorian Language of Flowers - Some of the 800 floral signs that originated in the Middle East in the 1600s. Each flower has a meaning and each combination expands the range of your expression.
Copyright 1999 - 2017 by John E. Shepler. Linking to this article is welcome, but no online republication is permitted. Print media republication rights are available at reasonable rates. Contact me at: John (at) JohnShepler.com
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First Published: April 7, 1999 as part of A Positive Light