Lovers beware. Forgetting your sweetheart on February 14 may invoke a tsunami of fury that makes the 1929 Chicago Valentine’s Day Massacre look like a church picnic.
And even if you do remember to buy a gift, choose judiciously. I once alerted a girlfriend she would be receiving a special bunch of ‘flowers’ for Valentine’s Day. Yes, in my attempt at romantic humor, I surprised her with bags of all-purpose, whole wheat, and self-rising flours – which, I hasten to add, were all lovingly hand-picked by me from the shelves of our local high-end supermarket. Nevertheless, I quickly learned how easily a flour bag ruptures when hurled across a room.
Obviously, real flowers as well as candy or perfume are traditional Valentine’s Day gifts for ladies. However, in today’s nervous health-conscious society, personal protection apparel might be acceptable practical gifts, too. This was not the case in my youth. Once upon a pre-viral time, giving your beloved even a designer face mask and suggesting she wear it on a public date might have landed you in the ER faster than you could say “and here’s some rubber gloves, too.”
Even if you don’t buy a gift, be sure to remember a Valentine’s Day card and – very importantly – after receiving yours, keep it on prominent display for at least a week. Otherwise, the source of those love arrows may quickly shift from Cupid to Robin Hood.
Cards, of course, are a convenient way to send a message on that special day, although not always a welcome one.
I remember early one February, many years ago, baking a ‘make-up’ apple and rhubarb pie and leaving it on the doorstep of a girlfriend during our short and sometimes turbulent relationship. A hand-made Valentine’s Day card later arrived on the 14th in the mail. I wish it had read: “Roses are red, violets are blue. Your cooking rocks, and so do you” followed by “Good pie!” In reality, the words were not quite so encouraging: “Roses are red, violets are blue. Your cooking sucks, and so do you …. Goodbye!”
As for the origins of Valentine’s Day, no, it was not created by a greeting card company CEO named Val N. Tyne. According to history.com, it’s traced to several early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine. Most came to a rather gruesome end, all presumably failing to present their sweethearts with gifts. That always bears remembering.
The same source also explains that the actual connection of romance to Valentine’s Day is usually credited to medieval English writer Chaucer. In “Parliament of Foules,” the poet refers to the mid-February day as a time when birds (and presumably other creatures including humans) look for a mate: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day, Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate” (old Geoff was a terrible speller).
However, I recommend you approach the topic of mating in any Feb 14 conversation with caution, especially if it’s a first date.
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for many newspapers and magazines. See GetNickT.org.