Valentine’s Day. What some refer to as “Singles Awareness Day” and others see as a 24-hour span of time where they should be absolutely romantic with the one they love. We all have different stories attached to our February 14ths– some of heartbreak, others of single yellow roses. Some of post-it notes adorning a room, each with a reason why they are loved scrawled upon every single one, and others of let downs and loneliness.
But where did this holiday of love letters and Cupid come from is my question. What customs from the past left us with the Hallmarked holiday and inclination to eat every mini box of Russell Stovers we find?
Well I am far from a history teacher but you might find this interesting: On February 14, back around 500 a.d., the ancient Romans would have a feast to celebrate Juno, the goddess of marriage and women. But the interesting part of this feast: all the women would write love letters and stick them to a giant urn. Then men would come from all over to pick a letter from the urn. The writer of the letter that they chose would be the “apple of their eye” for the next year.
Well call me crazy, but why did this custom fall through the cracks? Jeepers, I would love to compose a well thought out and eloquent love letter and stick it to some giant clay vessel and let that be all I had to do for the year to ensure myself a love interest. I am especially gifted in love letter writing so my chances of snagging a good man are even higher. I could lure him in with alliteration. Make his mouth water over my imagery. Leave him begging for more symbolism and adjectives to hold hands with his name.
Well my friends, I don’t think love can always work that way. In the 1700s the custom was dropped when women thought it would be better to pursue their beloveds by sight rather than luck (clearly there weren’t many Jane Austens in the bunch). As much as I adore hand written letters, I don’t believe that one well composed piece is enough to grant someone 365 days of courtly love. And where would the fun be if it were all that simple?
Let’s say I write a letter and “Joe” picks it up. Well then he is bound to me, no matter what. I could treat him unfairly. Decide not to laugh at his jokes. Forget to return his phone calls. And Joe would still hold tight to my letter and the chance to be with me. It is an unbalanced scale.
Love, despite what Dear John may think, is not about a well written letter. Love is about seeing beyond flaws, giving our heart to another based on the total package not just one part. Love is “I will take one step forward if you promise to do so too.” Love is about two people pursuing one another and finding that they together can write a beautiful love letter; one where he is careful with the capital letters or she is attentive to the punctuation.
Love, real love, is when a person realizes that they are willing to start a journey towards another’s heart by scrawling their lover’s name at the top of the page. Then day by day, paragraph by paragraph, a story unfolds until they are ready to sign their own name at the bottom– a delicate cursive that either reveals “write back soon,” “I think of you often,” “I need to let go,” or perhaps the most exquisite of all letters placed next to one another. “You can have my heart.”
Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone! May your day be full, either by chocolates and secret admirers, or if you are like me then treats to yourself (organic food shopping and cupcake baking). And hey: Perhaps it is time that we roped back in that Roman custom. Sit down for a feast, compose a love letter to our self, hide it somewhere around the living room and then find it. Then we can decide to pursue our own selves and our own happiness for a year. Now that is something that I could be very good at.