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February 8, 2020

Clare and I recently heard of an adventure our granddaughters had experienced. On most afternoons after school, these two girls go to Miss Maggie’s home. Miss Maggie is a young mother who is an artist. Creativity and imagination are among her many strengths. The activities she plans for the children under her care reflect her love of life and her love for people.

When the children arrived at her home on a warm day last week, Miss Maggie had a brilliant plan. “Today, we are going on a Mission of Compliments!” Miss Maggie announced. It was named by one of the children. Miss Maggie explained that they were going to leave messages of encouragement for strangers. Providing paper and crayons, she had the children write love notes.

The children traveled with Miss Maggie in her van to strategically place the notes where people might find them. One of our granddaughters taped her note to a library box near a local church. The other placed her note on the grave of one of our family members at Greenlawn Cemetery. These notes were not intended to be Valentine cards. However, the girls said they drew hearts and flowers on the cards along with the words “I love you.”

Miss Maggie’s idea prompted this column.

The National Retail Federation reports that in 2020 the average United States consumer is expected to spend $196.31 on Valentine’s Day gifts, meals, and entertainment. That represents a twenty-one percent increase over last year’s record of $161.96. In the United States alone, spending on Valentine’s Day is expected to total $27.4 billion. 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-five 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 school children 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. They 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 a lesser god, Cupid. Cupid fired his arrows indiscriminately. The common belief was that an unsuspecting subject struck by Cupid’s arrow would fall in love with the very 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. That love is defined beautifully in the Bible in I Corinthians 13.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails….And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

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.

On this Valentine’s Day, we might all borrow Miss Maggie’s idea. Each of us can find ways to share a kind word of encouragement with people who need a lift. 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 Center for Children, to Mobile Meals, to The Children’s Advocacy Center, to the public library, 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.

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

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