A friendly, even loving, reminder: Valentine’s Day is on the horizon and this is a day it’s best not to forget. Originally a pagan fertility festival, people have been celebrating it for such a long time that the records are a bit murky. There was a Saint Valentine, perhaps two of them, and they were priests who were martyred and later revered.
The first card is said to have been sent by Charles, Duke of Orleans who wrote his wife a love note from prison in 1415. Denmark is the newest participant in the celebration, only observing it since the 1990’s. Danes commemorate the day by writing anonymous, humorous rhymes recorded on fancy paper cutouts to the objects of their affection. They also give each other pressed flowers, usually little white snowdrops, to show their love.
In the United States, we’ve become accustomed to celebrating love and romance by giving gifts — candy, flowers (usually red roses), teddy bears and trinkets. It is a day when those in love plan to spend time together and perhaps go out for a special dinner enhanced by candlelight.
The holiday is celebrated in other ways around the world. In Wales, traditional gifts are hand-carved wooden spoons to celebrate St. Dwynwen, patron saint of lovers, given on Jan. 24. In England women place five bay leaves on their pillows, said to bring them dreams of their future husbands. Jack, also known as Old Father Valentine, leaves candies and small gifts on front porches for children but makes sure they never see him.
In the Philippines, mass wedding ceremonies are the order of the day, sometimes uniting as many as 5,000 couples at a time, who gather in public places like shopping malls to say “I do.”
The holiday signifies the coming of spring in Italy. There’s music, poetry, a stroll with your loved one and the exchange of chocolate-covered hazelnuts wrapped in paper inscribed with romantic quotes.
Lovers Day does not arrive until June 12 in Brazil when there are music festivals, chocolate and flowers for everyone, not just lovers. Women perform simpatias, rituals designed to bring them a husband.
In South Africa, women pin the names of men they are interested in on their shirt sleeves, sometimes surprising men when they learn of their admirers — thus the expression, “wearing one’s heart on their sleeve.”
In Iraq, Kurds decorate red apples said to bring prosperity and true love. In Slovenia it is St. Valentine who awakes the crops and flowers, making it possible for farmers to begin working their fields.
In America, it is a big day for florists—the time when they realize 32 percent of their annual sales and sell as many as 110 million roses, most of them shipped in from South America. A billion Valentine cards are exchanged every year, 83 percent of them bought by women. Three percent of pet owners buy gifts for their furry friends.
It doesn’t matter what you do to show you care on this day of romantic love. A single rose, a few well-chosen words on a special card, a box of chocolates. You could get crazy and decide on a tandem bungee jump or a helicopter ride, but however you decide to celebrate, remember it is the thought that counts. And whatever you do, don’t forget to do something!