I’ve always thought that the Hallmark Company, in conjunction with whatever government officials they had donated lots of money to, thought up the idea of Valentine’s Day in an effort to get people to buy more cards and candy. About five seconds of research this morning taught me otherwise. Here are two entries from my Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:
Valentine. Valentine, St. A priest of Rome who was imprisoned for succouring persecuted Christians. He became a convert himself, and although he restored the sight of his gaoler’s blind daughter, he was martyred by being clubbed to death (February 14, 269).
St. Valentine’s Day. February 14th, the day when, according to ancient tradition, the birds choose their mates for the year. It was an old custom in England to draw lots for lovers on this day, the person drawn being the drawer’s valentine, and given a present, sometimes of an expensive kind, but oftener of a pair of gloves. The valentine is now frequently represented by a greeting card of a sentimental, humorous, or merely vulgar character. The custom is said to have had its origin in a pagan practice connected with the worship of Juno on or about this day.
So our celebration of Valentine’s Day seems to be sort of an ancient pagan ritual given a Christian name and heavily marketed by card stores, candy makers, and florists. Still, I will commemorate the day by paying even more attention to my wife than I usually do.
I recently came across a collection of letters I wrote to a friend from 1992–1994. I wrote them all before I had even heard of e-mail and the Internet. About half of them I wrote by hand, before I even had access to a computer. My friend (Matt) actually saved all the letters, copied them, and collected them into a binder a couple of years ago and gave them to me. It’s almost like a journal of my life in the years before I met Mrs. Happy.
One of the letters is particularly appropriate today. I wrote it in 1993:
It’s Valentine’s Day and I don’t have a girlfriend. But contrary to popular belief, that’s no big tragedy. Valentine’s Day does, nevertheless, stir up some wonderfully painful memories of grade school days. It seems that I always had a crush on a girl when Valentine’s Day came around, and it always suffered the same pitiful end. Since we had to give a Valentine card to everyone in our class, I would pick out the most romantic card I had (usually something along the lines of a picture of a cartoon cat saying, “Purrrrty please, would you be my Valentine?”), or else I would “accidentally” give two cards to the object of my affection. Neither of these unbelievably romantic gestures ever seemed to work. I never received a hug or a kiss or a “Yes, I’ll be your Valentine, you big pussycat!” or an “I’ll be TWICE the Valentine you thought I’d be.” Invariably, my crush would simple hand me a card with a picture of a dog and the caption “Let’s be pals!” Some things never change. Let’s hope Valentine’s Day isn’t one of them.
Valentine’s Day has changed for me. It is one of the two days of the year that I almost have to get dressed up and take my wife to a fancy restaurant. I personally prefer tangible gifts to fine dining, but Mrs. Happy truly enjoys going upscale once in a while. I want her to feel especially special on Valentine’s Day, though, so I’ll treat my Valentine to a nice dinner and enjoy every minute of it.