Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day.

This being a site hosted by crime writers, you might think I’m about to plunge into a discussion of the most famous bloody Valentine’s Day ever, February 14, 1929.  That’s when members of Al Capone’s South Side Gang—some dressed as cops—lined up seven men affiliated with Bugs Moran’s North Side Gang inside a garage and shot them dead as part of a war for control of organized crime in Prohibition-era Chicago. 

But you’d be wrong, for this piece is about hearts and flowers.  No, ye cynics, not bullets through the heart and flowers for a funeral, but those bouquets you give to your beloved on the 14th of February—or risk consequences unmentionable in civilized society.

Yes, chocolates (a rumored aphrodisiac) and cards (did you know the first card was written in the form of a poem from a royal prisoner in the Tower of London to his wife?—even he knew forgetting was not an option) are also big Valentine’s Day favorites, too, but this is about flowers.

Charles, Duke of Orleans and first Valentine's Day card sender

But first a bit of history on how lovers became so obsessed with VD—hmm, any wonder why that acronym never caught on?

One legend says it began during a time of religious persecution in third century Rome, when Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for soldier-age young men.  Single men fought better, he thought. [Ed. Note: With great will power I resisted inserting a joke here.] 

A young priest thought that unfair, and kept performing marriages in secret.  When Claudius discovered the priest’s violation of his edict, the Emperor sentenced him to death.  While in prison, the priest befriended and healed his jailer’s blind daughter, and before being put to death—on February 14, 270—sent a letter to her signing it “From Your Valentine.”

Yep, Valentine was his name, and the legend goes on to say that in 496, after Valentine had been sainted, Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as a day to honor his memory as the patron saint of happy marriages, engaged couples and young people.

That’s disputed though, for some claim the date corresponds to the Roman fertility celebration of Lupercalia held between February 13th and 15th, and others claim it relates more to the period on the ancient Athenian calendar dedicated to the marriage of Zeus and Hera.   You knew I’d work the Greeks in here somewhere.

Lupercalia by Beccafumi

But it’s undisputed that the romantic love connotation to Valentine’s Day began in the 14th Century with this simple line by one rather influential writer:
Translation available via Glasgow

Still, it wasn’t until the early 1700s that flowers became a tradition on Valentine’s Day. That’s generally attributed to Charles II of Sweden’s introduction to Europe of the Persian custom of the “language of flowers.”  Each flower had its own meaning, a sort of secret code between the sender and recipient.

And with the rose symbolizing passion and love, it’s no wonder roses are the number one best seller every Valentine’s Day (257 million in the US in 2014).  But there are other flowers finding their way to Valentines, and for those of you wondering just what your beloved may have meant by those flowers that arrived at your doorstep today, here’s a list of meanings.

Just don’t shoot the messenger.

By the way, Valentine’s Day isn’t a big deal in Greece.  No reason to be, Greece gave Eros to the world.  Now it’s only looking to get some love back in return.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Barbara, Karen, Jennifer, Gavi, and Rachel. Okay, Jon, Terry, and Azi, too. And of course to….



  1. While I care for you deeply, Jeff, I won't be sending you flowers or chocolates. I'm afraid what might happen to me if I were to make someone jealous...

    1. Yeah, EvKa, you could end up in a reliquary on the Gran Canal.

  2. In the Church of San Samuele on the Gran Canal in Venice, in a white and gold box on a side altar, lie the bones of San Valentino. The scristan opened the box for us and let us see them. My companion that day was a young woman pining for a lost love. They were married a year later and are happy together still.

    1. That is a truly touching story, AA. Did she perchance take a photo of the remains in their reliquary? If so, she may have sent it off to her beloved together with a heartfelt Valentine's Day poem along these lines:

      Here is a box upon an altar,
      It gives me power not to falter,
      To tell you if you don't say "I do,"
      Very soon, my love, this will be you.


  3. Oh and by the way, Chaucer wrote in middle English, not Scotish. There are similar is, but Middle English is a bit easier to read.

    1. I know, but I thought it was a funnier line directing inquiries to our Scottish colleague than to one of those rock groups most certainly still singing in Middle English.

      By the way, it translates (I believe) as"

      "For this was on Saint Valentine's Day
      When every bird cometh there to chose his mate."

  4. My favourite flower is the thistle
    From its leaves I can make a whistle
    The thorns have been known to make strong men wilt,
    If there is nothing worn beneath the kilt....

    1. At last, a fellow plant lover,
      One true and blue and feisty too.
      So all I need to know from her,
      Is where the thorn makes men boo-hoo.

    2. It's your smallest part
      Where you'd feel the pain.
      No, not down there.
      Yes, of course, your brain.

    3. Thank you, EvKa, I feel so much better now!

  5. This is great do you have a catologue if so I would love one to share with friends and family.
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