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February 8, 2015

The improvement in our economy will make Valentine’s Day a profitable observance in our country. The day is expected to generate some $17.5 billion in retail sales in the United States. The average U.S. consumer is expected to spend $133.50 on Valentine’s Day gifts, meals, and entertainment, according to an annual Retail Federation survey. Most married Americans with children will spend money on their spouses. The remainder will go to Valentine’s Day gifts for their children, friends, co-workers, or pets.

Greeting cards will be the most common Valentine’s Day purchases. Fifty-two percent of American consumers plan to send at least one. According to the Greeting Card Association 195 million Valentine’s Day cards will be sent. That figure does not include the hundreds of millions of cards schoolchildren exchange.

Giving your sweetheart a Valentine’s Day card is a tradition. The first Valentine’s Day card was sent in 1415 from France’s Duke of Orléans to his wife when he was a prisoner in the Tower of London.

Valentine’s Day cards were originally handwritten notes, which gained popularity in the U.S. during the Revolutionary War. Mass production started in the early 1900s. Hallmark produced their first Valentines in 1913. Since then the market for Valentine’s Day cards has blossomed.

The National Confectioners Association estimates that nearly one half of U.S. consumers will exchange Valentine’s Day candy, totaling a sweet billion dollars in sales. About 75 percent of that billion will be from sales of chocolate. Chocolate has been associated with romance since Mexico’s Aztec Empire. Fifteenth-century Aztec emperor Montezuma believed that eating chocolate made him more virile, a priority for a man with an extensive harem.

Valentine’s Day, the lovers’ holiday, traces its roots to a raucous annual Roman festival. In ancient Roman mythology, Juno was the goddess of love and marriage. Her feast day was celebrated on February 15. Each year the Romans conducted a three-day party called Lupercalia, which was, in essence, an early version of the “Dating Game.” Eligible young men and women, who were single but old enough to be married, gathered for the celebration, complete with plenty of food, wine, and the inevitable matchmaking.

Couples brought together during Lupercalia were often struck by love at first sight. The Romans believed that fluttering invisibly in their midst was the lesser god Cupid who fired his arrows indiscriminately. They thought that an unsuspecting subject struck by Cupid’s arrow would fall in love with the next person who came into view. Interestingly, marriages often resulted from the matchmaking at Juno’s feast.

The pagan festival remained popular well into the fifth century A.D., years after Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Christian church changed the festival to the feast day of St. Valentine.

In the third century A.D. Roman Emperor Claudius II, seeking to bolster his army, forbade young men to marry. A young priest named Valentine disobeyed the ban by performing marriages in secret. During the persecutions of Christians under Claudius, Valentine visited those who were in prison, giving them comfort and consolation.

Because of his defiance of the emperor, Valentine was beheaded on February 14, 270, during the Feast of Lupercalia; Valentine was martyred on the altar of the goddess Juno. Later canonized by the church, he became known as Saint Valentine.

St. Valentine’s Day in our culture has become a time to express romantic love with chocolate, flowers, and heart-shaped cards. But there is more to genuine love than candy and roses.

Our son Scott has been pursuing a project. He is seeking ways the congregation of First Presbyterian Church and the Spartanburg faith community in our city as a whole, can more powerfully energize our community for the common good. Scott has spent much of the past year listening to individuals and groups, over 150 people to date with more still to meet. He has interviewed community members and leaders inviting them to share their ideas on how we can strengthen our life together in Spartanburg.

He reports that almost every person has spoken about healing our racial divisions and helping our fellow citizens who are caught in poverty. “The unanimity with which people have spoken about these concerns resonates like a calling to us all. We know what our challenges are.

“But though there is broad consensus that these issues must be more deeply addressed, many of us are at a loss of what more to do. Great energy is already expended on financial assistance, education, health care, and community building—but what would push us further, to change these problems and transform us as a whole people?

“As I have listened to folks, again and again, speak about race and poverty, a strange thing has happened. Four people connected with our congregation have stepped forward over the course of the last year, independent of any prompting and concurrent with the development of this project, wanting to deal with these issues:

– Jimmy Edwards began Transparent Men with his friend Dr. Ben Snoddy, a monthly breakfast gathering for men to know one another across our racial divide. Over eighty people attend regularly, from more than ten congregations across our community.

– Marlanda Dekine began hosting a discussion group on race the first Monday of every month in our Chapel, to which people from five cities across South Carolina come.

“– Dr. Gloria Close initiated the CAST program, supporting children and their families who live in motels throughout our city. This program now reaches dozens of people and has drawn together the energy of several of our schools, churches, and philanthropies to care for these important families in our community.”

– This past November, Jerry Kiehl led several veteran organizations to host a meal for homeless citizens in the Arthur Center at First Presbyterian. Over thirty people are now served and given basic supplies the second Tuesday of every month here.

“These leaders saw a need, felt a passion, and have used their gifts to act. They were called and they answered. Each of these programs is about encountering and knowing those different from us, to care for them and to learn from them. All four are about forming relationships.”

I am especially grateful to our former mayor Bill Barnet and his leadership in the Northside initiative. Good things are happening in our community. Progress may seem slow, and we may be tempted to become discouraged. But if we are motivated by genuine heartfelt love, we will persevere.

In the spirit of St. Valentine, February 14 ought also to be a time to express a deeper love, love for all people, especially those who are suffering.

So how will you celebrate St. Valentine’s Day?

By all means give your sweetheart a box of chocolates, a bouquet of flowers, or a carefully selected card. But in the true spirit of Saint Valentine, also consider making a contribution to TOTAL ministries, to the Soup Kitchen, to St. Luke’s Free Clinic, to Greater Spartanburg Ministries, to Miracle Hill Rescue Mission, to the Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network, to Habitat for Humanity, to Hope for the Children, to Mobile Meals, or to any one of the many charities that care for those in need.

This Valentine’s Day, let’s celebrate, not only our love for those special people in our lives, but for all people that God loves. That includes everyone.


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