Conference House Park
The Daily Plant : Friday, February 14, 2003
THE HISTORY OF VALENTINE’S DAY
Valentine’s day began behind bars. A priest, Valentine, imprisoned for secretly marrying people against the decree of Emperor Claudius II, fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, his only visitor during his long and painful confinement. On the day before his hanging, he wrote her a letter expressing his true feelings for her, and signed it, "from your Valentine." After his death, Valentine was recognized as a martyr and a saint, and lovers all over the world now use his signature—"from your valentine"—on their love letters to signify the depth of their affections.
The Valentine’s Day that we know and love—or love to hate—was not celebrated in popular culture until the seventeenth century. In the meantime, the holiday was celebrated by the Romans, as a feast day in mid-February. Many believe that the date of the feast was chosen to commemorate the death and martyrdom of St. Valentine, but there is also evidence to suggest that the middle of February was chosen in order to provide a Catholic alternative to the pagan "Lupercalia" festival. The spirit of the "Lupercalia" festival was decidedly romantic, and included a fertility ritual that involved the slapping of women and fields with strips of goat hide soaked in the blood of freshly sacrificed animals. The festival culminated in a giant lottery, which paired all the city’s young singles up for the year. In what will surely become the premise for a reality-television show, all the young women of the city were invited to place their name in an large urn, so that all the city’s bachelors could then choose a name from the urn and become paired to his "chosen" woman for the next year. These matches often resulted in marriage. Eventually this ritual was deemed both un-Christian and unromantic, and Pope Gelasius declared February 14th the "real" Saint Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s day was celebrated on February 14th throughout the Middle Ages, as a day of love and romance. In the mid 1600’s, it became a popular holiday in Great Britain, and by the middle of the eighteenth century, friends and lovers of all social classes began to exchange small gifts and letters. Improvements in printing technology led to the first printed valentine cards and, soon after, an improved postal system led to the mass production of Valentine’s Day greetings. In America, valentines were first exchanged in the early 1700’s. Today, the American Greeting Card Association estimates that one billion valentine cards are sent each year. Flowers and candy are also popular Valentine offerings; last year 36 million boxes of chocolates and 110 million roses (mostly red) were exchanged on February 14th.
Because of the nature of the gifts typically exchanged on Valentine’s Day and the sentiments expressed therein, February 14th has developed a reputation as a holiday for women and couples still in the throes of infatuation. However, studies have shown that men long for tokens of affection and small indulgences as much as women do, and that parents, children, friends, and lovers in all stages of romance enjoy an excuse to exchange words of tenderness and devotion.
Written by Hannah Gersen
FOR YOU AND YOURS,
ROMANTIC SPOTS IN NEW YORK CITY PARKS
• Wave Hill – Feel like Joe Millionaire as you watch the sun set over the Palisades.
• Orchard Beach – A romantic walk on the rocky shoreline of Hunter Island will transport you to the coast of Old New England.
• Brooklyn Heights Promenade – Stroll along the waterfront and fall in love with New York City.
• Lullwater Bridge, Prospect Park – The waterfall and boathouse make the perfect setting for romance.
• Shakespeare Garden, Central Park – Recite the love sonnets of William Shakespeare in this tranquil garden while you sit on a private bench.
• The Battery – Take in an unparalleled view as seagulls fly, the waves lap, and the sun sets over Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
• Heather Garden, Fort Tryon Park – This picturesque garden offers spectacular views of the Palisades in all seasons.
• Unisphere, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park – The whole world is your oyster as you kiss under this great globe of the 1964 World’s Fair.
• Hermon A. MacNeil Park – The lights of the Whitestone Bridge form a perfect diadem.
• Conference House Park – Walk on the beach – the southernmost point in New York state – hand-in-hand with a loved one.
• Alice Austen House – This Victorian garden will transport you to 19th century romance.
QUOTATION FOR THE DAY
"But true love is a durable fire,
In the mind ever burning,
Never sick, never old, never dead,
From itself never turning."
Sir Walter Ralegh