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14.02.2020Stefanie C. Jost

The story of a thrilling day of celebration

Valentine’s Day “The rose is red, the violet’s blue, The honey’s sweet, and so are you. Thou art my love and I am thine; I drew thee to my Valentine: The lot was cast and then I drew, And Fortune said it shou’d be you.” This poem by Joseph Ritson in 1784 is probably the first to give Valentine’s Day its romantic depth. It has led to many imitators. For those who had a “it’s complicated” relationship status, a little later there were so-called “Mechanical Valentines”. These were pre-formulated, printed Valentine’s cards that poured out one person’s heart in order to open the other person’s heart. It was then that the big feelings were discovered. It was finally about marrying for true love and not merely for calculated reasons. I have been wondering for years what this day is all about? A day that makes some women’s anticipation grow sky-high for weeks, and before which some men begin to tremble already at the end of January, because they know exactly that there is something important … and I must not forget the flowers! As I leaf through historical writings, I discover a poem by Charles of Arc from 1415. Here he mentions his wife Valentine. Even in Shakespeare, Valentine’s Day is reclaimed in the dramatic events surrounding Hamlet: Ophelia sings ecstatically about it. But the origin goes back a long way. The passages about Saint Valentine of Terni open my eyes! This saint died a martyr’s death for marrying young couples according to Christian custom in the Roman Empire. It is terrible that such a beautiful ritual, which was supposed to show lifelong commitment, met with so much incomprehension. In 469, Pope Gelasius instituted a day of thanksgiving in honour of St Valentine and set it for 14 February. In medieval England, Geoffrey Chaucer took up the theme in literature. As a result, the day gradually acquired a deeper meaning even for people who were not so strongly attached to the Christian faith. To commemorate the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia, he wrote the poem “Parlement of Foules”. On this anniversary in February, birds began to sing again after the oppressive winter months, started to mate and created new nests. This meteorological providence charged the day with additional meaning. This is why Valentine’s Day is considered a harbinger of spring and a sign of renewal. So, people liked to give tulips as gifts and still do today, because in the language of flowers this expresses love and affection. As a great festival of love, the first celebrations lasting several days took place in the name of Valentine at the court of King Charles VI around 1400. They must have been lavish celebrations, with opulent flower arrangements, exotic food and sensual music. To keep the excitement high, knights had to pass overwhelming tournament fights. In an early form of “Dancing Stars”, it was also necessary to award the couple with the most spirited turn. I can already imagine that the French got this right. After all, it’s not called “Living like God in France” for nothing. Maybe it was called “Celebrating like Valentine in France” back then?

Since Valentine’s Day became a true globetrotter through the Christian missionaries, it has now become long standing traditions in many regions. Sweets are often given as gifts to pamper sweethearts and beloved. Of course, the traditions have also adapted. By incorporating regional traditions, Valentine’s Day created something unique. In Slovenia, Valentine’s Day was initially exclusively the feast day for beekeepers and pilgrims, and was also usually the day when work began in the vineyards and fields. Only recently did love also begin to play a role on this day, which can be explained by the long separation of Europe. Ultimately, Europe is also a couple that is finally finding its way back to each other after many decades of estrangement. Incidentally, the custom only came to Germany and Austria with the US occupiers in the 1950s. In Finland and Estonia, people also give presents to their platonic friends on the so-called “Ystävänpäivä” (Friends’ Day). There, the common language family also endured the historical separation. In Italy, the bond began to be expressed in a more captivating way: the custom of the “love lock” was invented, which today causes a worrying increase in weight on many a bridge, simply because so many couples want to immortalise their love with a padlock. The initials of the lovers are engraved on the lock and the key finally ends up in the river – nothing should be able to separate this love any more! That is very beautiful, the statics must be able to cope with that. In South Africa, people meet for a romantic dinner in red and white dresses, which testify to the purity of love. In South Korea, on the other hand, only women give their husbands chocolate. They receive nothing in return – quite honestly, I don’t think that’s a sensible emancipation.

Oh, I put the books aside, exhausted and happy about so much increased knowledge, and ask myself while looking at our wonderful resorts: How do I talk to children about love, when it is often so difficult for adults and they need help like Valentine’s Day? In doing so, I reminisce and remember how I was as a child and in love for the first time. It was in kindergarten; I was just four years old. His name was Georg and he was almost six years old. Yes, I know, as a woman you start looking up to older men at an early age. I have to smile when I think of his face. He had freckles; I can still see them clearly. Whenever it rained, he wore a red rain jacket and red rubber boots. He made me a butterfly out of paper and when we went out into the garden at lunchtime, he always held my hand. First love is a promise that others keep. I think children are always open to genuine affection. They are so receptive to everything that happens around them. I’m sure they are curious to know how their parents met. Or what it feels like to be thrilled by someone? How infatuation turns into attachment? I’m sure they are beautiful stories! … I would love to hear. In this instance, all the LOVE from your Stefanie

Stefanie C. Jost
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