My wife Janice and I will be celebrating our 45th Wedding Anniversary on May 21st. Over four decades later, I can say without reservation that I love her more deeply with each passing year. It is too easy to take one’s marriage partner for granted in our extremely busy world. Yet each of us want to feel special and appreciated. Valentine’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to go to the very heart of what marriage is really all about. Valentine’s Day was birthed in a time much like nowadays when people were encouraged to look down on marriage as an interference with their personal freedoms and careers.
Through attending a Marriage Encounter weekend, I have learned that one of the most romantic things that one can do on Valentine’s Day (and every day) is to write a personal letter to one’s sweetheart.
Despite Napoleon Bonaparte’s extreme busyness in leading France, he took time to write as many as 75,000 letters in his lifetime, many of them to his beautiful wife, Josephine, both before and during their marriage. This letter, written just prior to their 1796 wedding, shows surprising tenderness and emotion from the future emperor.
“I wake filled with thoughts of you. Your portrait and the intoxicating evening which we spent yesterday have left my senses in turmoil. Sweet, incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart! Are you angry? Do I see you looking sad? Are you worried? My soul aches with sorrow, and there can be no rest for you lover; but is there still more in store for me when, yielding to the profound feelings which overwhelm me, I draw from your lips, from your heart a love which consumes me with fire? Ah! it was last night that I fully realized how false an image of you your portrait gives!
You are leaving at noon; I shall see you in three hours.
Until then, mio dolce amor, a thousand kisses; but give me none in return, for they set my blood on fire.”
Each Valentine’s Day, approximately 1 billion letters and cards are sent each year to loved ones. So where does this remarkably popular Saint Valentine’s Day come from anyway? In the city of Rome around 270AD, there lived an Emperor known as Claudius the Cruel. Claudius was having problems recruiting men to serve in his armies, because the men selfishly wanted to stay home with their wives and children. Angry that his men were more loyal to their wives than to himself, Claudius decided to outlaw marriage!
Couples who were in love searched for someone who would help them get married, even in secret. A priest named Valentine performed wedding ceremonies for these desperate young lovers. When a young couple came to the temple, he secretly united them in marriage in front of the sacred altar. Another pair sought his aid and in secret he wed them. Others came and quietly were married. Valentine quickly became the friend of lovers in every district of Rome.
But, such secrets could not be kept for long in Rome. At last word of Valentine’s acts reached the palace and Claudius the Cruel was angry, exceedingly angry. On the orders of Claudius, Valentine was dragged from the temple, away from the altar where a young maiden and a Roman youth stood, ready to be married, and taken off to jail.
Valentine’s jailer had a daughter, Augustine. She was so kind to Valentine during his brutal imprisonment, that Valentine sent a ‘Valentine’s Card’ with a grateful “thank you” message for all that she had done.
Many asked Claudius to release Valentine but Claudius refused to do so. As a punishment for supporting marriage, Valentine was beaten to death with clubs and then beheaded. Valentine laid down his life for others because he passionately believed in the sanctity of marriage. His devoted friends buried him in the church of St. Praxedes. The date of his tragic murder was February 14th AD 270. .
History tells us the first modern valentines’ ‘card’ date from the early years of the fifteenth century. The young French Duke of Orleans, captured at the battle of Agincourt, was kept a prisoner in the Tower of London for many years. He wrote poem after poem to his wife, real valentines, of which about sixty of them remain. These can be seen among the royal papers in the British Museum.
All of my Valentine’s Day Cards to my wife over the past decades have been marked with a string of “X”s to represent kisses. The practice of using an “X” for a kiss grew out of the medieval practice of letting illiterate people sign documents with an “X” to represent their name. This was done in the presence of witnesses and a kiss was given upon the “X” to show sincerity. The “X” then became synonymous with a kiss in the minds of most people. Why did they sign with an “X”? One reason was because the “X” shape represented St. Andrew’s cross which is also used in the Scottish and British flags. But most importantly for our ancestors, the “X” represented the first Greek letter (Chi) in the name ‘Christ’. (That’s why Xmas stands for the ‘Christ’ in CHRIST-mas.)
For our forebears, “X” = Kisses=Love=the Cross=Christ.
As my wife and I will be celebrating several decades of a loving committed marriage, I am reminded that ‘X’ marks the spot in our grateful marriage. ‘X’ has been the open secret to our perseverance through good times and bad times. ‘X’ has been the key to our hanging in there through sickness and health. ‘X’ will be the key to our having and holding till death do us part. My prayer for those reading this article is that each of us, like Saint Valentine, may be open to a personal encounter with the eternal ‘X’, Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News
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