“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
Wise words as always from Peanuts creator Charles Schulz.
And what better day than 14th February to look for love online? If all we find is chocolate, I doubt there’ll be many who are disappointed…
First off, who exactly was St Valentine? According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (which you can read as part of Oxford Reference Online by logging in with your Westminster Library card)
“The commemoration formerly observed on 14 Feb. appears to refer to two Valentines: a Roman priest martyred on the Flaminian Way under the Emp. Claudius (c.269) and a Bishop of Terni (Interamna) who was taken to Rome and martyred, and whose remains were later conveyed back to Terni. Though the surviving accounts of both martyrdoms are clearly legendary, there are indications that each contains a nucleus of fact; and it is just possible that the kernel of truth in the two legends refers to a single person. The traditional association of St Valentine’s day with courtship and the choosing of a ‘Valentine’ of the opposite sex is connected perhaps with certain customs of the pagan festival of Lupercalia (mid-Feb.) at Rome, or with the natural season, not with any tradition concerning either saint of the name.”
So far, so dull. The first recorded association of love with St Valentine is in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Parliament of Fowls –
“For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make”
Or, for the non-Medieval scholars among us –
“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate”
Ophelia mentions the day in Hamlet –
“To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine”
It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the custom of sending Valentine’s cards really caught on. You can find some charming examples of Victorian valentine cards at The Scrap Album and read about how one American family sent them in Susan Coolidge’s children’s novel What Katy Did. Rather less charming was the custom of comic valentines. In Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford, Laura the shy post office clerk-heroine received one
“With the picture of a hideous female handing out penny stamps and some printed doggerel which began:
‘You think yourself so lad-di-da And get yourself up so grand’
and went on to advise her always to wear a thick veil when she went out, or her face would frighten the cows. Underneath the verse was scrawled in pencil: ‘Wat you reely wants is a mask.’ She thrust it into the fire”
But how to celebrate Valentine’s Day now? If you haven’t booked a nice restaurant, it may be too late but there’s still time to cook a meal for the special someone in your life. Check out the Home & Garden section of the Gateway to Websites for some recipe sites. Why not try out the Movie Night Valentine’s Menu on the BBC site?
And of course you can’t have a movie night without movies so why not check out the Westminster libraries DVD collection for an appropriately romantic film. If you fancy a comedy, this RomCom list on IMDB might give you some ideas. Or maybe one from this list of gay romantic films. If you think that a weepie is the way forward, you can’t go wrong with Celia Johnson’s doomed love for Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter (a must for Archers listeners). And for ambient music? Well, we at Treasure Hunt Towers will be playing the Walrus of Love, Barry White but in the unlikely event that he doesn’t float your boat, why not have a look at Naxos Music Library which allows you to stream nearly 2 million tracks ranging covering every conceivable genre from reggae to opera. Just log in with your Westminster library card.
And for those of us who are on our own on Valentines Day? Well, why not adapt this charming Japanese custom for the benefit of your friends, colleagues or even [whisper it] the staff of your local library?
“In Japan and Korea, Valentine’s has become almost an obligation for women to give chocolates, known as giri-choco, to all of their co-workers. A reciprocal day on 14th of March known as White Day has emerged in recent times whereby men are supposed to thank those who remembered them on Valentine’s Day with white chocolate or marshmallows, hence white day.”