The origins of Valentine’s Day is not entirely clear since there are, apparently, three saints named Valentine. Most people, if they know anything at all about its history, associate the day with the third century priest who helped Christians escape from Roman prisons. According to one legend, this particular Valentine fell in love with his jailor’s daughter, and, before he was put to death, sent her a love letter that he signed, “from your Valentine?” True? Myth? Who can tell?
Another origin story of Valentine’s Day suggests that it started out as the pagan feast day of Lupercalia, a fertility festival celebrated on February 15th, dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. In an attempt to Christianize it, the church turned it into the feast day of the above-mentioned St. Valentine because the 14th was either his birthday or the day he died.
Hmmm, I’m not sure which of these stories makes me think of romance more: a martyred saint who had a questionable relationship with a young woman, or a pagan celebration. Nevertheless, it became an established day of celebrating romance in France and England during the middle ages because February 14th was the start of bird mating season and the date coincided with the Feast of St. Valentine as well. Legend has it that, sometime during that era, people began sending Valentine’s Day greetings to mark the occasion. According to a website called “The History of Valentine’s Day,” “The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.” Aw, that’s nice.
Today, some people think of it as nothing but a Hallmark holiday, while others take the opportunity to express special words of love, to exchange sentimental tokens, or even to send loving thoughts to friends or family members.
When I was growing up, my mom used to leave a little gift at our breakfast places on Valentine’s Day morning which I thought was the sweetest thing. it encouraged me to see that Valentine’s Day was a time to express love to anyone special and wasn’t just for romance. And even though my husband and I don’t make a big deal of it, he has been known to write me a beautiful poem for the occasion, and I might make him a special dinner or dessert.
I don’t recall Jane Austen ever mentioning Valentine’s Day in any of her books but I don’t think she did. We know that romance was not a big part of her life other than in her writing though it seems she had a couple of brushes with it. Did she ever receive a Valentine, do you think? Or send one? The latter I imagine not, unless it was to a beloved family member like Cassandra, her sister.
If your significant other isn’t great with Valentine’s Day, I say it’s time to drop them a hint. Send him/her a link to a JAFF novel you’ve always wanted to read, or point them towards Jane Austen socks, an action figure, or board game! (Yes, I have a Pride and Prejudice board game but no one to play it with, whimper, whimper.) If that’s not an option, why not curl up with either an Austen canon or re-read one of your favorite JAFFs, because our Jane, and so many of our JAFF authors, deliver up just the right level of romance for this day, or any day.
Now, please bear with me as I share with you my modest attempt at poetry, in honor of Jane for Valentine’s Day:
One gentle spirit
bringing joy beyond joy –
wit, satire, tears, love;
stories that speak over centuries,
words that ring universal:
inspiration and comfort,
discovery and delight.
From merely six gems
(and a few smaller pearls)
a world is opened for infinite exploration.
She is our muse, our teacher, our goddess of the pen.
Happy Valentine’s Day!