Be My Valentine
The origins of Valentine’s Day
by James Lamont (revised, originally published in 2010)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To explore the origins of Valentine’s Day.
Preparation and materials
- Have available the song ‘I just called to say I love you’ by Stevie Wonder, and the means to play it during the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly. It is 6.23 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bGOgY1CmiU
- Note: it would be easy to have this assembly led entirely by students.
- Optional: you may wish to use a candle for the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly, in which case you will also need the means to light it.
- Valentine’s Day is celebrated in a similar style all over the world. People give cards and gifts to their loved ones, with large numbers of people giving sweets and chocolates. In some countries, women give men chocolates on Valentine’s Day and the men return the favour a month later on 14 March. This second day is called White Day, and there is a lot of pressure to ensure that the answering gift is three times more valuable than the original!
Such small variations point to the universal significance of Valentine’s Day.
- Early Christian records tell of two St Valentines. They lived in the third century and were martyred in Rome. Their feast day is on 14 February. Neither, however, had an explicit connection to romance.
- The first recorded connection between St Valentine’s Day and romance is found in a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer. In his 1382 work, Parlement of Foules, he wrote, ‘For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.’
Birds certainly do start making nests and mating at this time of year. However, we don’t know whether the link between love and St Valentine’s Day originated with Chaucer or whether he was recording a well-known tradition.
- However, the tradition spread, no doubt helped by the medieval idea of courtly love. Increasingly, young men felt required to express their feelings through verse and poetry.
In 1797, The Young Man’s Valentine Writer was published for the first time. The book contained a selection of romantic verses so that young men who were not gifted in verse could express their feelings by copying out pre-written valentines.
- Before the advent of the printing press and mass media, handwritten verses were expected. However, the arrival of cheaper postage and industrial printing helped to establish the tradition of sending printed Valentine’s Day cards.
- The successful commercial exploitation of the festival has led to it being called a ‘Hallmark holiday’: a festival promoted by companies that are seeking to make money. We see evidence of this in the global expansion of this Christian festival, and the involvement in the 1980s of diamond companies who used the day to promote gifts of jewellery.
- However, there is something more, something genuine, about the festival. The cards and gifts may be mass-produced, but they have a personal meaning. In our busy world, it’s important to make time to let people who are special to us know just how much they are valued.
Time for reflection
Optional: light a candle.
Play the song ‘I just called to say I love you’ by Stevie Wonder.
When the first chorus has been sung, say the following words, leaving the music running.
I just called to say I love you.
Maybe you had a row with family at home today: perhaps a call would be good?
Maybe you haven’t spoken to an older member of your family for ages: perhaps a call would be good?
Maybe you need to make up with a friend: perhaps a call would help?
I just called to say I love you.
I just called to say how much I care.
Today, let’s all say to someone, somewhere, that we care. Let’s also think about doing the same on other days, too, when it isn’t Valentine’s Day.
Please help us to see the importance of showing other people that we care.
Thank you for all that we have.
Please help us to take time today to consider who we need to make a special effort with,
To let them know that we really do care.