Berger’s Burg: Writer gets to the heart of Valentine’s Day theories

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Valentine’s day is named after St. Valentine, the patron saint of lovers, florists, candy companies and divorce lawyers.

Gloria is on a diet so I will give her a lettuce-gram on Valentine’s day.

Did you know that Feb. 14 is the date St. Valentine, a martyr of the early Christian church, died? What is so romantic about his death and why should the date of his demise be chosen as the day to celebrate our lovely St. Valentine’s Day?

The reason is not known, but there are many theories. It will now be my journalistic duty to present a few of them. You are welcome to pick the one that best suits your heartstrings.

What is known is that St. Valentine was a humble physician and a Christian bishop. He kept busy tending to the sick with his herbs, powders and prayers. One of his patients was a little blind girl, the daughter of the jailer in the emperor’s prison.

Valentine treated and prayed for the little girl and while doing so became good friends with her father. But even this friendship with the jailer could not save him from harm. The Roman emperor Claudius was filled with great hostility for Christians. Not only that, he didn’t like humble physicians. So one day Valentine was seized, arrested and thrown into prison. While in prison, Valentine was believed to have cured the jailer’s daughter of blindness. I wonder if that is where “love is blind” originated.

Valentine loved children. His young friends missed him and threw messages of love through the window of his jail cell. In practicing this primitive form of air mail, they literally threw the first Valentine cards ever directed to a loved one. Unfortunately, Valentine did not have the time to read them all because he was subsequently beheaded. Is this the reason people “lose their heads” when they fall in love?

Valentine’s execution took place Feb. 14 in the year 270, three years before Andy Rooney’s first appearance on “Sixty Minutes.” Today the anniversary is aggressively observed as a day for expressing love and by some as the time to throw sentimental messages through a jail window of their favorite politician.

Why they chose his execution as the date for Valentine’s Day is shrouded in mystery. There is nothing in the life of the saint to indicate such observance; however, as one scribe is believed to have written, Valentine perpetuated the exchange of love greetings by responding to the missives the jailer’s daughter threw him.

Another and more plausible explanation is rooted in tradition. Birds, it was observed, began to mate on this date, even the San Diego Chicken, Big Bird and Chicken Little. So the practice of young people’s choosing their valentines on that day probably originated with an unrequited lover who coined the snappy phrase “Love is for the birds.”

A third explanation is of French origin. The Normandy word “galatin” means “lover.” But it was written and pronounced “valentin.” Through linguistic confusion, St. Valentine’s name got tossed into the mix and gratuitously he then was thought to be the patron saint of lovers.

Many other people believe in still another theory. In ancient Persia, a festival was celebrated in February called the “Merdgiran.” This was in honor of the angel who was deemed the special guardian of women. On this occasion, women enjoyed the privilege of absolute power. The husbands had to obey all the commands of his wife. Unmarried women were permitted to chase the male of their choice. Gloria likes Merdgiran so much that we celebrate it permanently.

A similar custom existed for centuries in Europe. On the 14th of February, it was not considered unfeminine for a young woman to pursue a man she favored. The rest of the year, a man was permitted to chase a woman until she caught him.

After all has been said and done, the most credible explanation is that St. Valentine’s Day is a survival of the old Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated around Feb. 14. It was in honor of Pan, the god of shepherds and country people, and Juno, the goddess of marriage and the guardian of women. It also was the celebration in honor of a citizen who had protected the city from a horde of dangerous wolves (the lupine, not the human kind).

At the annual festival the names of eligible young women were put into a box. Then, all the romantic young swains would draw the names of their dates by lots. Voila! They had instant dates.

Don’t you agree that this method is a much better system of meeting prospective mates than today’s ritual of congregating in health clubs, bars or, heavens to St. Valentine, blind dates arranged by a best friend who becomes your worst enemy if it doesn’t work out?

Fortunately, I met Gloria on Feb. 22 (George Washington’s birthday), eight full days after Valentine’s Day. It is lucky that I did. It saved me the price of a Valentine’s Day card.

So there you have it — the many possible origins of St. Valentine’s Day. I prefer a simpler explanation. The proclaimer of St. Valentine’s Day was asked why he chose Feb. 14 as the date for lovers to express their love for one another. In his wisdom, he replied, “Why not?”

Although St. Valentine’s Day is not a legal or religious holiday, it is a very important date on our personal calendar. It really does not matter how this day came about or why the custom of sending valentines began. What does matter is that St. Valentine’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to tell someone you love how much that person means to you.

Remember, as David Viscott said, “To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides.”

In this weather, everyone could use the extra warmth.

Hug and smooch that someone special. And if this column does the trick, don’t forget to invite Gloria and me to the wedding. We wish you all a happy Valentine of love.

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 140.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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