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We are re-publishing a column today that ran more than a century ago in the Lebanon Daily News.
Ruth Cameron – pen name of Persis Dwight Hannah – had a syndicated column that was published by more than 150 newspapers. This one ran February 14, 1914.
The Meaning of St Valentine’s Day
By Ruth Cameron
I have often wondered what was the exact origin of our celebration of St. Valentine’s day, what St. Valentine’s connection with it was, and why the information on this subject which usually appears in our magazines and newspapers about this time of year is always so vague and unsatisfactory.
This year, for your sake and mine, I took the radical step of looking the matter up, as my valentine to you, let me tell you a few things about Valentine’s Day.
In the first place, the reason no one ever tells us clearly about the origin of the celebration and why it is called St. Valentine’s Day is that no one knows.
There are two Valentines for whom this honor has been claimed.
The first is Saint Valentine, a pope of the early church. He was a most holy and austere man and was cast into jail for his faith during the Claudian persecutions. While he was there he cured the jailer’s daughter of blindness; subsequently he was beaten with clubs, then beheaded.
The other Valentine was a bishop. The chief thing known about him was that he choked to death on a fish bone. For some reason people afflicted with epilepsy pray for him.
Any possible reason why either one of these men should be chosen for the patron saint of lovers no one has been able to find out.
The celebration itself probably comes down to us from the old Roman times, for in the month of February festivals were held to Juno and Pan, and one of the customs was for the boys to draw the names of the girls from a bowl, just as the young folks of today sometimes do at their parties.
The Christian fathers disapproved of this custom and tried to induce the young men to draw the names of saints instead. The idea was that each young man was to imitate the virtues of the saint whose name he drew. In connection with this custom, it is supposed that Saint Valentine somehow got mixed up with the day which now bears his name.
There are many traditions connected with the 14th of February. One is that it is the day on which birds choose their mate. Hence the drawing of names by the young men.
According to an old English custom the man or maid who greeted a member of the opposite sex by being the first to say, “Good morrow, ’tis St. Valentine’s Day.” could claim a gift.
Another idea was that the first woman seen by a man on that day—and vice versa—was to be his valentine or sweetheart.
Of course, the immortal Pepys has some interesting little side lights to contribute. Valentine givers will be interested to know that this middle class gentleman gave his valentine a dozen pairs of gloves and a pair of silk stockings. Quite evidently the cost of living could not have been what it is now.
Again, he tells us how Will Bowyer came to be his wife’s valentine. “She’s having (at which I made good sport to myself) held her hands all morning, that she might not see the painters that were at work gilding my chimney piece and pictures in my dining room.”
Doesn’t that bring a hundred years ago close to use?
— Ruth Cameron