BE MY VALENTINE and no one gets hurt
by Patricia Draznin

I have been researching the history of Valentine’s Day for a whole forty minutes, so listen up. I was hoping for evidence of heart-shaped graffiti on early cave walls but was grateful for any explanation—and there were many—of why we are programmed to send cards to our sweethearts on February 14, along with candy, roses, or BMWs. So here goes.

Once upon a time in 270 A.D., in the days before Hershey Kisses or red construction paper, lived the Roman Emperor Claudius II, also known as Claudius the Cruel, who NEVER received a valentine, not even in third grade when the whole school exchanged those tacky little ones that come in packs of 40. The Emperor was trying to gather all the single males into a lean, mean toga machine. But just like modern times, the selection of single guys was limited. Also, the profession of hand-to-hand combat was unpopular as it was common to return from battle in two UPS shipments. So Claudius, unconcerned that his popularity was hovering just above Attilla’s, pronounced marriage illegal. This put a dent in empire morale, not to mention the catering business. 

So who was Valentine? As the legend goes, Valentinus was a kind priest who performed weddings in secret, where couples exchanged vows in the hush of night without bridesmaids, champagne, or pigs-in-blankets. When Claudius found out, he had Valentinus arrested. The priest would have felt sufficiently punished to know that some frilly Hallmark cards would be named after him. But sadly, Valentinus was executed, not that you should let that dampen your candlelight dinner.

And why February 14? This was believed to be the opening day for mating season for birds. REALLY. So just like the birds, we celebrate February 14 and the brave St. Valentine with poetry and sunflower seeds, and those little pastel candy hearts that taste bad but have cool messages printed on them in toxic ink, like BE MINE, KISS ME, or the lyrics to Britney’s OOPS!… I DID IT AGAIN.

And why do we send valentines? Blame Esther Howland, a Massachusetts entrepreneur who mass-produced the first lacy greeting cards in the 1870s. Thanks to Ms. Howland, we are now legally required to send valentines to all of our sweethearts, relatives, and everyone on our alimony list. And in case you’re concerned about sending the perfect valentine, worry no more. In the old days, choices were limited to greetings like “True Love,” “Be My Valentine,” “I Love You Even When I’m Dating Other People.” But today, 2000 companies are niche marketing their greeting cards to target your particular valentine needs:

  • Happy Valentines Day from your husband, your son and your gerbil;
  • Happy Valentines Day from your ex-wife and your ex-dog in your ex-house;
  • Happy Valentines Day from the redhead in the bar you promised to call but never did, maybe you lost my number, here it is again …
  • And the popular New Jersey series, including “Be My Valentine and no one gets hurt.”

You can’t miss, if you just remember not to confuse Valentines Day with July 4th, St. Patrick’s, or Groundhog Day. You want to be careful not to send your sweetheart firecrackers, green beer, or a greeting like “Be My Valentine or we’ll have six more weeks of winter.”

Copyright 2003 Patricia Draznin


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