The Legendary Saint of Love: Honoring the History and Traditions of Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s Day takes on new meaning | Image courtesy flick’r user Maf04

Around the year 270 A.D., Emperor Claudius II decided that men would make better fighters if they were unwed, so he outlawed marriage for any potential soldier. Seeing this as a crime against humanity—and love—Saint Valentine secretly performed marriages for young men and their lovers. Infuriated, Emperor Claudius II had St. Valentine thrown into jail and sentenced to a horrible death, which was carried out on February 14th, according to legend.

As the wife of a former Airman, I’m personally grateful for Saint Valentine’s dedication to unifying soldiers with their true and forever loves. His brave actions protecting the freedom to marry and love turned him into a martyr. To honor his heroic story, we celebrate Valentine’s Day each year with simple, but meaningful traditions that carry on his mission of putting true love above all else.

The Beauty of the Written Word

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A gorgeous love letter to mark the occasion | Image courtesy Etsy seller MedievalJourney

Sentenced to death for his devotion to the young couples in his community, Saint Valentine spent many months in jail awaiting his execution. All the while, he never forgot the importance of love.

Legend claims that he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter who would visit him in his jail cell. Though he was destined for death, she unswervingly gave her heart to him. In return, he wrote her beautiful love notes signed, “from your Valentine.”

Inspired by Saint Valentine’s sweet gesture, the only thing he had to offer his beloved, I wanted to give my valentine a memento that would endure through time as well. I wrote out a love letter and had it transcribed in old calligraphy on vintage paper. Not only is it a message from my heart, but even its appearance speaks to the strength of our love as a promise that will last through the ages.

A Medieval Feast for Lovers

Saint Valentine’s story has survived more than 1,700 years because a single man taught the world that love should always come first. As the tale of his life, and death, spread throughout Western Europe, inspiring everyone who believed in true love, Saint Valentine became the leader of a movement with an enormous following, despite his cruel sentence and execution. To honor his unceasing dedication to star-crossed lovers, friends and families across the European continent would gather each year to celebrate kindness and love with a massive feast in the middle of February.

To honor that age-old tradition, I thought it would be fitting for my love and me to have our own Valentine’s Day feast in the form of a romantic, home-cooked meal—something that our busy schedules rarely allow for. I wanted to maintain the theme of honoring the days of old, so I designed the meal with ancient dishes in mind—a honeyed capon, black bread, buttered carrots, iced blueberries in sweet cream for dessert, and, of course, red wine.

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A romantic Valentine’s Day feast | Image courtesy flick’r user Matheusswanson

The honeyed capon was a first for me—and certainly set the Medieval mood. A capon is a domesticated rooster, with a similar taste and texture to chicken. They’re available in most specialty meat shops here in Texas where my husband and I live, but if you’re unable to find one at your local shop, a chicken makes a perfect substitute.

The Ingredients:

  • A whole capon, about 6 pounds
  • 3 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 c. apple cider vinegar
  • ¾ c. honey
  • 2 tsp fresh mint, chopped
  • ½ c. currants or raisins
  • Salt

The Cooking Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 450-degrees F
  2. Place the capon in a roasting pan, rubbing the outside with 2 tbs of the unsalted butter, melted, before sprinkling with salt.
  3. Put the capon in the oven for 60 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers at least 165-degrees F. The juices should run clear when the thermometer is removed.
  4. While the capon is roasting, prepare the sauce. Combine the remaining 1 tbs unsalted butter, apple cider vinegar, honey, mint, and currants in a saucepan. Allow the sauce to simmer about 20-30 minutes, reducing to about half its original volume. The currants will plump up and the sauce will become thick.
  5. Once the capon is done, brush half of the sauce over the outside of the capon. Let the capon rest for about 5 minutes while the sauce forms a glaze.
  6. Carve the breast meat and serve it with a dollop of the remaining sauce.

Not only does a rustic meal remind me of the early days of the holiday, but it makes the occasion extra special. It’s not every day that I roast a capon in the Medieval tradition!

A Quote from One of the Greats

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The perfect quote transformed into a romantic keepsake | Image courtesy Etsy seller EunoiaStudios

Love is such a complex emotion that requires a master wordsmith to explain. As the traditions inspired by Saint Valentine’s devotion grew in popularity over the decades, the importance of the holiday spread to the nobility. Before long, kings began hiring writers to compose sweetly worded notes to their lovers.

When I have a hard time finding the right words for everything I’m feeling, I, like the kings of yesteryear, turn to some of the greatest romance writers of the past few centuries. The poetic voices of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a few, have immortalized some of the most vivid love stories ever told.

This year, instead of buying a card off the shelf, I chose a heartwarming quote from one of the great romance poets of all time—Pablo Neruda. Using some heavy card stock in a sepia tone color, I wrote my chosen quote in my own handwriting, signing it at the bottom. I placed it in a simple black frame and set it on the dinner table to serve as my Valentine’s Day card—and a deep statement of my love.

Love Is All Around

As the story goes, during the early years of the Valentine’s Day festivals and feasts, young Roman women would write their names on slips of paper and toss them into a giant urn. The young men would then choose a name from the urn at random. The matched pair would get to know each other for a year, often resulting in marriage. I love this idea of leaving matches up to fate, so I thought it would be fun to organize a friends-focused version of the Roman tradition in the form of a gift exchange.

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Here’s to a magical Valentine’s Day | Image courtesy Etsy seller SplendorInTheRough

We used an online gift exchange site to help us randomly pick names and, after Valentine’s Day, we all got together at my house for coffee and pastries—and to swap stories of our most romantic moments, as well as our gifts.

The gifts were small, but meaningful, many handmade. It was a wonderful time for us to show each other that even though we all get distracted by the great loves in our lives from time to time, we should always make the extra effort to show our appreciation for our friends, our pillars of support through it all.

I’ve always loved Valentine’s Day—wondering if I’ll get surprised with flowers or trying not to get caught sneaking a little love note into my husband’s lunch box. But getting to know the history of St. Valentine’s Day has made it all the more meaningful for me. It’s no longer a Hallmark holiday for me—it represents the importance of taking a moment to acknowledge all the love in my daily life, amongst my friends, and in today’s complex society.

Valentine’s Day was born out of a desperate need to save the practice of marriage for couples who were deeply in love. Saint Valentine valued companionship and true devotion more than his own life, continuing to live with an open heart until his final days, despite a promise of certain death. With the many lessons on love that make up his story fresh in my mind, I plan to celebrate every Valentine’s Day with a deep sense of thankfulness, compassion, and hope towards all my relationships, from friends to family to my one true love.

Want more ideas on how to make Valentine’s Day spectacular for you and your beloved? Let the Elves help find the perfect gift or download our free printable coupons for a gift straight from the heart. Get even more ideas on our Facebook page, on Instagram @Elfster, and on Twitter @Elfster.