The Truth About Valentine’s Day by Margaret Hart
Growing up, Valentine’s Day was always a favorite day of mine. Even though my last name is spelled “Hart,” on Valentine’s Day it could just as well have been spelled “Heart, ” and many of my friends would sending me Valentine cards addressed to Margaret Heart.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed giving and receiving Valentine cards, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, and flowers, but I don’t think I’ve ever really stopped to think about the origins of Valentine’s Day or what it means. Nowadays, not because I’m an adult, but because I am a parent with a child in elementary school, I think more about almost every major (and minor) holiday and tradition we recognize in the United States because they tend to be celebrated or discussed in school. I have my eight-year-old son to thank for my reeducation.
So instead of adding to the overload of sugar, I thought I’d contribute something fun and educational for my son’s Valentine’s party this week. I thought it would be a good idea to put together a little story I could read to the kids about Valentine’s Day. Simple enough, right? Well, that turned out to be easier said than done.
In just a few minutes of research, I found at least a half dozen stories or more of so-called historical accounts about Saint Valentine, for whom the day is apparently named. He could have been a third century Roman saint who died on February 14, and was associated with a tradition of courtly love. He could have been a Roman physician who was also a Christian priest during the days of the early church. One site said he was beloved by the children of his town so much that they would write him affectionate notes, hence the first exchange of a “Valentine.” And yet, another story tells of Saint Valentine being arrested by Roman soldiers for working as an “undercover priest” to heal a blind boy. For his good deed, he was sentenced to death. Before his execution, he writes a note to the blind boy, and encloses a treat. According to this account, the boy’s eyesight is restored when he eats the treat, and therefore he is able to read the Valentine.
I kept digging for more. Another explanation said that a man named Valentine was a prisoner who fell in love with the daughter of his jailer, and before being put to death, he sent her a Valentine. Or perhaps he was a priest, who secretly married couples during the third century, when marriage of soldiers was supposedly forbidden by the Emperor because he believed single men performed better in battle.
One thing is certain. There are no clear explanations as to who Saint Valentine was or what he did that made him famous — or infamous. Nor is there clear information about why or how he became associated with love and romance, and the writing of love notes.
So like any good mom, I’m switching gears, and bringing something fun to class, and leaving the educational discussions for the teacher. I found a fun Valentine’s Day word search, with words like chocolate, heart, flowers, friendship, cupid, and arrow. I’m giving that to the kids, along with a Valentine’s Day pencil (because kids can always use another pencil). I might tell them about Cupid, the cute little cherub who is a symbol of Valentine’s Day. He was the son of Venus, who was the Roman goddess of love and beauty. And Cupid’s arrows were filled with a magical potion that made anyone he shot fall in love.
On second thought, maybe talking about arrows is not such a good idea after all.