Love is in the air! This month it’s all about passion, the color red, paper heart cut-outs, and cupids drawing their arrows. In the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, which is celebrated on February 14, partners search for the ideal gifts to express their devotion and convey their love. In the busyness of the season, many forget the history of this holiday.
Valentine’s Day occurs every February 14 in the United States and in other destinations worldwide. On this day, loved one’s exchange candy, flowers, and gifts in the name of St. Valentine.
History of the holiday
Who was St. Valentine? According to the History Channel, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus – all of whom were martyred.
One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Roman Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice, defied Claudius and continued to secretly perform marriages for young lovers. When his actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that Valentine be killed.
Other historians claim that it was Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop, who was the true namesake of the holiday. He was beheaded by Claudius II outside of Rome, possibly for attempting to help Christians escape Roman prisons.
According to yet another legend, while Valentine was imprisoned, he sent the first “valentine” greeting to a young girl – possibly his jailor’s daughter – who visited him during his confinement. It is alleged that before his death, he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine”– an expression that is still widely used today.
Although the real story behind St. Valentine ’s Day is unclear, the stories emphasize this saint’s appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and romantic person. By the Middle Ages, he became one of the most popular saints in England and France.
Another explanation claims that in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, the church placed the St. Valentine’s feast day in mid-February. Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and to Romulus and Remus, who founded the city of Rome.
To kick off the festival, members of the Luperci – an order of Roman priests – gathered at a sacred cave where Romulus and Remus were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests sacrificed a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. According to the legend, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides from these animals since it was believed that it would make them more fertile. Young women in the city were invited to place their names into an urn. The single men from that city would each choose a name from the urn and become paired with their chosen woman for the year. The matches often ended in marriage.
Although Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity, it was deemed “un-Christian” and outlawed at the end of the fifth century when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day.
It was not until much later that this day became associated with love. During the Middle Ages in France and England, it was commonly believed that February 14 was the beginning of mating season for birds. This added to the idea that Valentine’s Day should be dedicated to romance.
English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to record St. Valentine’s Day as a day of romance in his 1375 poem Parliament of Foules. He wrote: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”
As far back as the Middle Ages, valentine greetings were popular, but handwritten valentines didn’t debut until after 1400. The oldest known valentine is part of the manuscript collection of England’s British Library. It was written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans for his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London after he was captured at the Battle of Agincourt.
An old holiday with new ideas
Regardless of which version of the legend resonates with you, many of us share a common wish to make our partners feel cherished and to remind them just how much we love them on this day.
Although dinner reservations, and gifting flowers and chocolates is common practice, there are also many innovative ways to celebrate. Get creative and craft your own Valentine’s Day experience based on the interests of you and your partner. Here are some ideas for weekday or weekend celebrations:
Re-create your first date
We all remember the details about how we first met, how we fell in love, and where we went on our very first date together. Maybe it’s been a few years or even a few decades since then, but it would be fun to re-create that first date and remember just how it felt to fall in love.
Go for a romantic stroll through a picturesque park such as Poets’ Walk Park in Red Hook, NY. Celebrating the union between landscape and poetry, it offers nearly two miles of trails and vistas designed by Hans Jacob Ehlers, who worked chiefly in the Hudson Valley region. The park’s name draws inspiration from Washington Irving of “Rip van Winkle” fame and other writers who reportedly strolled about the grounds there.
Take a short road trip to Kaaterskill Falls – a dramatic two-tier waterfall in the Catskill Mountains. Sure, the weather may be chilly, but you’ll draw warmth from bundling up and strolling arm in arm with your partner. There’s a reason why this landmark has been the epicenter of Catskills tourism since the early 1800s and is the most popular and highly visited destination in the Catskill Park Forest Preserve.
Not the outdoorsy type? Plan a cozy evening indoors baking cookies together and cuddling up on the couch while watching a movie. Some Valentine’s Day faves include Notting Hill (1999); Valentine’s Day (2010); When Harry Met Sally (1989); and Casablanca (1942).
Mohonk Mountain House
Founded by the Smiley family in 1869, this grandiose Victorian castle resort in New Paltz is tucked away, surrounded by acres upon acres of pristine forest. Activities abound. Glide across the ice at its rustic-style outdoor skating rink, which is perched above the lake in an open-air pavilion. Between skating sessions, warm up to your valentine while sipping hot cocoa in front of the stone fireplace. Lovers can also hike the winter trails or try getting a reservation at its on-site farm-to-table restaurant. The hotel was granted a Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Award for 2023 and was voted the #1 Resort in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.
Couples spa retreat
Rain Spa in Rhinebeck, NY, was founded on the idea that rain is good luck, representing a fresh start, new beginnings, and a cleansing of the past. Maybe your relationship is exactly where you want it to be, or maybe it’s time to unite and embark on a new beginning together.
Couples can create together at PCB – a pour-your-own candle bar in Hudson, NY. Choose from more than 70 fragrances before paring your choices down and crafting a candle, room spray, or reed diffuser. Experience this olfactive journey together and leave with a meaningful token of time well spent with one another in Hudson.
If your partner is an arts enthusiast, visit the Clark in Williamstown, MA. The museum is offering free admission throughout March. February is the perfect time to stay warm indoors while exploring its permanent collection galleries or wandering hand-in-hand through the walking trails across its 140-acre campus. The Clark is hosting a free valentine art-making activity on February 11 from 2-4pm. Stop by the valentine-making station on the lower level of the Clark Center and create a unique card for your sweetheart, friend, or special family member using images from the Clark’s collection.
David-Jeremiah, I Drive Thee opens on February 10. The exhibition represents an overview of and conclusion to the artist’s cycle of large circular reliefs, or tondos, collectively titled, I Drive Thee. In this series, the artist is concerned with agency and appetite, asking both who drives and who is driven.
Release those endorphins while practicing yoga together at Rhinebeck Yoga Center, which offers yoga classes for every level of practitioner. Classes are held seven days a week. It also hosts workshops by expert teachers, live music yoga classes, kirtan (call and response chanting), and yoga retreats.
Calling all the single ladies. Celebrate your friendships on Galentine’s Day – February 13, 2024. According to an article in USA Today, it traces its origins back to the television show Parks & Recreation. An episode entitled Galentine’s Day saw the show’s lead Leslie Knope celebrating the holiday with a group of her girlfriends at a local diner.
Enjoy a nice brunch or lunch at the Amsterdam in Rhinebeck, and then watch a fun chick flick, such as Bridesmaids (2011), Clueless (1995), or Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005).
Wine enthusiasts can clink their glasses to cheer their friendship at a wine tasting at Millbrook Winery. Other ideas include baking together or hosting a ladies-only charcuterie night. Pick up some fixings at Adams Fairacre Farms. Other ideas include planning a tea or coffee outing at Harney & Sons Tea or Bread Alone Bakery.
If that doesn’t suit your style, have a pedi party at home or visit a nail salon, host a clothing swap, or practice yoga together. The most important thing is to celebrate and just have some fun!
Sue Adams, vice president, Adams Greenhouses is hosting a lecture and flower reading on February 11 at Paula’s Runway Cafe in Wappingers Falls, NY, at 2pm.
Adams will provide a brief history of flower readings, share information on love-themed bloom varieties, and perform a few complimentary flower readings in front of the group. Everyone in attendance is entitled to a reading. The floral aficionado will work individually with guests and share results via email.
She has some advice for people looking to gift flowers. “Choose flowers in colors you think they’ll love. You can never go wrong with flowers, and florists can help with choices. It’s a good idea to consult them a few days before Valentine’s Day,” said Sue Adams.
Aside from roses, Adams said other popular blooms include alstroemeria. Those seeking potted plants should consider orchids, which are quite popular and convey love.
Adams shares some of the meanings of today’s most popular floral choices.
• Alstroemeria: This conveys friendship, devotion, and prosperity and is a symbol for following your dreams
• Tulips: Red represents love. Purple expresses admiration for a loved one’s accomplishments, and white represents an apology. Yellow symbolizes friendship.
• Daisy: This is a happy flower. It also conveys loyal love, cheerfulness, and new beginnings. •
The list of suggestions here are just that, suggestions. These few suggestions are just a drop in the ocean of local places where one could go for these types of outings and services. Enjoy!