Saturday, February 14, 2009

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!

Happy Valentine’s Day! Love is in the air! Romance abounds! I'm sure, because a boisterous cardinal told me so in a sweet clear song soon after the sun came up. And if anyone knows about passion, it’s that saucy ol’ scarlet-attired redbird. Yet I confess, I’m never quite sure why we celebrate such a love-affirming day in the middle of winter. Wouldn’t April or May be a better time for proclaiming matters of our over-flowing hearts? Actually, maybe not. If you wish to know how Valentine's Day came about, various legends and bits of folklore abound—all purporting to explain the who, what, where, when, and why of things. Yes, I know, you pragmatists will harrump and say the whole shebang is a vile concoction of the greeting card, chocolate, and flower retailers, designed solely to add dollars to their coffers. Well I say lighten up! Go with the moment, fantasy or not—what does it matter? Love and romance and passion surely aren’t fantasies. Life is too short to keep peeping behind the curtain; just enjoy the show! There’s the tale of the Roman priest, martyred for performing marriages for soldiers, against the decree of Emperor Claudius II, who thought single men made better warriors. A priest named Valentine who fell in love with the jailor’s daughter, to whom he sent a letter just before being beheaded—on February 14th—which he signed…“from your Valentine.” Or perhaps you prefer the tale which says Valentine’s Day springs from the old Roman Feast of Lupercalia—a rowdy fertility festival where teenage girls would write their names on bits of parchment and place the slips in an urn. Unmarried young men would then draw a name from the container and the girl would become his companion for the remainder of the year. Centuries later, the early Christian Church, appalled by the concepts of this pagan rite pairing, tried to switch things around a bit—first by banning the name drawing, second by renaming the day to honor a saint…enter St. Valentine’s Day. (The young men were, of course, bummed at losing such a near-perfect form of matchmaking. Which, when you think about it, is much like our modern system of automobile leasing—pick out a new vehicle, drive it a while until the miles build up and the new wears off, then turn it in and pick out another model and start over.) Anyway, the old practice was modified to a more decorous exchange of notes expressing admiration which, as centuries progressed, got adopted by young men and women around the world. Though nowadays I suspect any red-blooded American male who wishes to do Valentine’s Day up right had better come calling with more than a paltry hand-written card. My favorite folkloric twist to the Valentine’s Day opus concerns the odd notion that February 14 marked the beginning of the mating season for birds. This idea seems to have been fairly widespread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. Many birds do begin to congregate in flocks around this time of the year. And large migratory flights are often witnessed. Some scholars think the belief can be traced to the courtship flights of crows, which often takes place throughout much of Europe around the middle of February. There’s additionally the venerable tradition regarding the first bird a woman sees flying overhead on Valentine’s Day. If the bird’s a robin, she’ll marry a sailor. A sparrow indicates a future mate who’s poor. But if she sees a goldfinch, her prospective husband will be rich. The belief that February 14 somehow marked the beginning of the avian mating season also seemed to coincide with many early-European traditions which saw mid-February as the rightful start of spring. And spring, as even those prosaic Middle Agers could have told you, is unequivocally the season for kicking off a romance.

20 comments:

Val said...

"Though nowadays I suspect any red-blooded American male who wishes to do Valentine’s Day up right had better come calling with more than a paltry hand-written card."

I can say for me personally there's nothing I'd love more than a hand-written card...

Great post, Grizzled!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Val…

Me, too. It's a shame we so often let Hallmark speak for our hearts…

Happy Valentine's Day!

A Brit in Tennessee said...

I love this post...
i'd like to recieve flowers,but probably won't :(
The card gesture means a lot, especially when it has a handwritten sentiment.
Happy Valentine's day to you !

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for that run-down on St Valentine. I am quite a romantic at heart - but I am afraid romance in that sense and farmers are not compatible! We have six goldfinches on our birdtable today - what does that tell me - I am already married but maybe riches are coming my way - shall not care one way or the other - I have a rich enough life here in a lovely part of the countryside.

KGMom said...

I am convinced that the origin of Valentine's Day was the church (once again) appropriating what had been a "pagan" holiday.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Brit in TN…

Happy Valentine's Day to you. Bet it's pretty in Tennessee this morning.

I always consider cards—for any occasion—as simply the starting point, and fill them with my own words and art (I use this latter term with laughable optimism).

Personally, if I were you, I'd forgo the flowers and hold out for chocolate…but then, I'm a guy.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

I've seen the photos, read your postings—the goldfinches tell the truth, and are themselves part of your rich life. Can there be a greater wealth than a country sunrise, or little wood with it's flowing beck? Or that rose you just found blooming in spite of the snow?

Wealth is yours, already…and love, too, because I've read between the lines and saw the joy in your heart, the way your eye and words capture and focus on the simple beauty.

Romance? As a countrywoman, you know that roots matter, and that what may be buried deep in someone's soul, in the vibrant earth of a shared life, does not necessarily need to bloom openly to have value and substance.

Your treasures are many. Happy Valentine's Day!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

That would be my guess, too. The Catholic Church has three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared February 14 would honor St. Valentine as the patron saint of lovers.

It’s also a fact that Pope Gregory XVI gave an Irish Priest named Father John Spratt the purported bones of St. Valentine during a visit to Rome in 1935, and that these remains can be viewed every Valentine’s Day at the Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin, Ireland.

Now, as to whether Valentine’s Day celebrated one of these saints, or the celebration was simply clapped atop older Roman festivals, we’ll likely never know. In ancient Rome, February 14 was a holiday to honor Juno, queen of gods and goddesses, and goddess herself of women and marriage. One of the aspects of Juno was Februta, associated with mating and fertility (which may or may not be an etymological root of the month’s name).

The following day marked the beginning of the Feast of Lupercalia—a rowdy fertility festival some claim was based on glorifying the legendary wolf which suckled Romulus and Remus, Rome’s founders, in a cave on Palatine Hill. (There also may be a derivative connection with Lupercalia and the Greek god Pan.)

I can easily see the Church employing one of their saints to suppress such goings on as were practiced at both these festivals.

Anyway, happy Valentine’s Day…regardless of its shadowy past.

giggles said...

We celebrate it 'cuz it's my birthday....!!

Personally, I prefer the note-writer's version, as I fancy myself that sort of person....

Lovely photo, so perfect for today...

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Hey, happy birthday…and happy Valentine's Day!

A mid-February double-barreled celebration! Does that mean you get flowers, chocolates, a cake (we won't count candles,) gifts and presents, and TWO cards and/or hand-written notes?

giggles said...

Well...so far...two cards, (not any handwritten...) and flowers.... I asked NOT to get candy (as I am much too hefty without additional help) and I'm not expecting a cake for the same reason...

I asked for a squirrel-proof bird feeder for a present, but my husband reminded me that we have 2 in the garage and his mom has one in her garage as well.... (We DO??!! Well, then...let's hang 'em high!! The squirrels have gotten more than their fair share of BIRD seed!!!!!!!!)

I'm not a romantic, so I shouldn't be disappointed when folks around me aren't romantic either...

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Well, at least you haven't been forgotten. Too bad about the cake and candy, though. You have enviable resistance.

I never met anything chocolate I didn't like. When it comes to birthdays and holidays, my personal philosophy is simple—never let a sweet temptation go to waste…give in, immediately, and tell ol' guilt to go find someone else to bother for a day!

But don't let me lead you down the road to perdition. I am a creature of my own shortcomings…

Re. those squirrel-proof feeders—I'm of a mind that no such device exists. The best way to keep squirrels from your bird seed is to make them the chief ingredient in a good burgoo stew! I threaten my squirrels daily with such a fate and ignore their snide snickers.

giggles said...

Oh darn.... you're giving me cholate for thought.... I'm all weak in the taste buds, now..... All I needed was for someone to say, in a way, it's okay....

re; squirrel-proofing... I bought some "squirrel food" at the same time as I bought some bird seed the other day....think that'll do??!! I was thinkin' I'd leave piles o' the stuff at the bottom of their nesting/hangout trees...to stop 'em right in their tracks.... Peanuts, cracked corn, etc, etc.... to keep them happy for a while.... (Oh, I hear you chuckling as I'm typing..."You silly filly...that'll just encourage 'em more!")

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Hang tough on those chocolate cravings! DO NOT LISTEN! DO NOT GIVE IN! That was not me in that previous comment but a blogosphere demon with pointy horns and Hershey bars in his pockets. I don't know how the little creep got to my keyboard!

Giggles, my friend, listen to me…I think it is wonderful that you've elected to serve your squirrels such a banquet. A humanitarian gesture of the first order. But…and this is really important, even if you don't like the news—just trust me on this…squirrels are smarter than humans. That includes engineers and designers of "squirrel-proof" feeding devices. Maybe especially engineers and designers of "squirrel-proof" feeding devices. Squirrels are agile, cagey, bushy-tailed tree rats, with insatiable curiosity and voracious appetites. They have lots of kith and kin, and don't mind calling for reinforcements. Squirrels are not honor-bound, and refuse to play fair.

The next time you get a chance, look a squirrel in the eye. Does this greedy little bright-eyed gray bugger look trustworthy to you? Of course not! You wouldn't buy a used car from a squirrel. Behind that doofus visage is an arboreal rodent always looking for a handout. But a very smart, very determined, practically undiscouragable critter that's high-strung and highly-motivated, and will make you crazy if you try to keep them from dinning with their feathered friends. Like trying to herd cats, only worse.

Feed your squirrels, feed your birds, and be assured, regardless of what you do, the twain will mix.

Jenn Jilks said...

RE: Valentine. More harm was done in classrooms over this event, as a retired teacher I loathed it. We did Random Acts of Kindness, instead.

TO: giggles, we have a bird feeder, squirrel feeder, a bird feeder the flying squirrel likes, swinging bucket, a woodpecker feeder, and my favourite: the "squirrel-be-gone" feeder (version II). It doesn't work, as the photo clearly shows. The raccoon get on it and shake it enough that the seed falls out, or it falls off of the branch. I have given up! I wish you luck!

giggles said...

LOL!!!!!! Funny!!!!!

I'll feed all the critters and give up any semblance of a good fight or smartness or out-witting the rodents....

Thanks for your wisdom....exactly what i was looking for!

I forgot to mention, my kibbles on this special VD/BD are (is?) chicken cordon bleu.... Hubby is cooking a delectible tried and true great recipe....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

I don't doubt you whatsoever!

I remember my own long-ago school days (back when poodles roamed the earth) and how on Valentine's Day Eve, Mom and I would sit at the kitchen table, with the list of names of all my classmates, which the teacher had forced upon each and every one of us. Mom would have bought me a packet of Valentines from the variety store. I'd address and sign them, Mom would check the name off the list.

Then into the "special Valentine's card box" which was really just a gussied-up shoebox with a slot in top, construction paper covering the sides and top, with hearts and Cupid's arrows, and God knows what else pasted all over, including the bottom—plus those bits of hair, dirt, nose drippings and loose paper scraps that had accidentally been glued into the design along with the intended decorations.

The next day our proclamations of enduring affection to our fellow inmates would be distributed amid much punching, kicking, sobbing, pinching, and muttered imprecations…if we knew any.

We then dined on Kool-Aid and nasty vanilla cookies, both of which I loathe to this day. It was a day of public torture and humiliation for us kids, and must have been a nightmare for the teacher.

I can only speculate how a day of "random acts of kindness" might have played out in the same classroom. I'm betting not a whole lot better.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

You may have hit on the single workable solution to your squirrel issues—feed 'em until they become so portly they can't climb. Then the neighborhood cats can just sit by the tree trunks and wait for dinner to tumble down…"Look, Felicity, it's raining squirrels." Chomp.

I believe chicken cordon bleu is singular—but it's been a long day, so I'd eat plural.

Bella said...

I click on your blog to see the title "Happy Valentine's Day" - I instantly think maybe the scribe is having a lapse into an alternative reality or maybe a "blogosphere demon" has taken over his nature blog....but wait, a few clicks and there, a beautiful 'scarlet-attired redbird'...
Another enjoyable post!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bella…

Huh! You think a grizzled ol' river rat don't know love, passion, and romance first hand? Surely you jest! There's no "lapse into an alternative reality" here, thank you very much. Why, way back yunder in the hysterical past, come a fine, damp moonlit night in June…it warn't just frogs a'croakin' on the mud bank. Natural nature, you might say. So this blog didn't stray a'tall. :-)

Happy Valentine's Day. I'm glad you liked my redbird.