“We don’t celebrate St. Valentine’s Day.” That’s what my mother said. She would continue, “We are Jewish and we definitely don’t make a big deal about a holiday honoring a saint. Marion, you should know better.” So I called my sister and I checked this out with her to make sure that I wasn’t making this up and she said, “You know you’re right. Mommy never let us celebrate St. Valentine’s Day.” Granted I was raised in Montreal, Quebec, where Catholicism reigned and where every Jew, most of whom were first generation, was always on the look out for any saint whom they feared would influence their children. As a result I have vague memories at best of doing anything for St Valentine’s Day. I think I once covered a box with red foil paper that I took to school hoping to fill it with cards from my classmates. I remember sneaking the box back into the house through the basement door! If I told my tale to any one today, I think they would politely chuckle and have a good laugh privately.
Now I live in the America with a husband, married children, and grandchildren. Here in the United States even the name of the holiday has been changed from religious to secular. No one even thinks about the religious origins of the holiday. There were in fact three St. Valentines. While all three were martyred, the patron saint of the day was indeed a benevolent soul. During the third century when Claudius III, ruler of the Roman Empire, realized that unmarried young men made better soldiers, he forbade them to marry. It is Valentine who took the risk and performed the marriages clandestinely. He was celebrated for his acts of bravery and made a saint.
The romantic aspect came much later at the end of the fifth century. The oldest valentine still in existence 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.
In addition, February 14th is also the beginning of the birds’ mating season in England and France giving further romantic association with the day.
Given my work with interfaith couples, I realize that this topic has never come up as an issue for discussion. I don’t think anyone thinks about the day other than an opportunity to show love to another person. No one thinks about the origins of this occasion.
So what do I want from my husband of 50 years? A gentle kiss and Leonard Cohen’s new album, “Old Ideas.”
Marion L. Usher