Did you know that Valentine’s Day is an ancient celebration? Legend holds that the holiday has its roots in the Roman Lupercalia Festival which was held in mid-February. Unmarried girls wrote their names on slips of paper and placed them in a jar. Single men dipped their hands into the jar to select a sweetheart and participate in fertility rites to honor Juno, goddess of love and marriage.
History records two Valentines who were martyred on February 14th in the third century. One saint was killed for performing marriages, a practice Emperor Claudius II disliked because married men made better lovers than warriors. The other Valentine, jailed for aiding Christians, pricked a violet’s heart-shaped leaves with the message “Remember your Valentine” and a dove delivered the notes to the saint’s loved ones. Today, doves decorate valentines, heart-shaped symbols of giving the essence of self.
Bunny Crumpacker writes in The Sex Life of Food that the gift of food is a gift of oneself and a statement of love. She notes that men have given gifts of chocolates to their lovers for centuries. We now know that eating chocolate releases a chemical in the brain that makes us feel as if we’re falling in love. Casanova reportedly prized chocolate as an aphrodisiac rating it more effective than anything except champagne. Ditto the Marquee de Sade, and Louis XV’s mistresses Mesdames du Barry and de Pompadour.
In addition to its reputation as a heart-felt gift, chocolate is good for the heart and possibly protects against cancer. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is high in antioxidants (blocks damage to cells and arteries) and stearic acid (a type of vegetable fat that acts like the “good” fat in olive and canola oils.) Chocolate’s antioxidants are similar to the ones in tea, red wine, and some fruits and veggies.
I remember the first heart-shaped box of chocolates a boy gave me. I ate all the chocolates, even the ones I disliked, because it seemed a crime to reject them, and by extension, him. And I vividly remember the post high-school Valentine’s Day, years later, when I watched a day-long parade of messengers deliver cellophane-wrapped floral bouquets to every cubicle on the office aisle except mine. Another romance had recently bitten the dust and I was afraid that I’d never find a sweetheart.
On the subway ride home from work I was buffeted by bouquets clutched by lovers in lip locks. By the time I arrived at my fifth floor walk-up apartment I was thoroughly wretched. Gloomily, I brewed a comforting pot of tea and nibbled the chocolate bar I’d bought at the corner bodega. That’s when I got the bright idea. Valentine’s Day is about love, right? Well, that meant that anybody I loved or who loved me, ever, could be my Valentine. Next year, I vowed, in love or out, I’d host a valentine party. And I did.
Friends, male and female, were invited to join me for a valentine-making spree. When some folks protested that they were single, I reminded them that they didn’t have to be. With or without a significant other, everyone could come eat their fill of chocolate in a variety of forms. That and champagne seemed to be the deal breaker. I provided stickers, rubber stamps, ribbon, crayons (as my Aunt Lois says, “You can’t run a household without crayons.”) construction paper, etc.
One woman made a valentine for her dog, another for a boyfriend she wished she’d never dismissed. There were funny valentines, sad valentines, and strange valentines. I made one for a favorite English teacher and each guest. All of us were officially un-attached, but not unloved. We had a grand time and I used that experience as the basis of my NOT-FOR-LOVERS-ONLY-DESSERT TEA in my first book, Tea With Friends. See http://www.teawithfriends.com/teawfriends_bk.php.
Much later I mailed an autographed copy of that book to my high-school English teacher and was stunned to receive a reply. Sister R. wrote that she remembered me (after all those years!) and that I’d always “exhibited outstanding creativity.” She probably thought that about everybody, but it made my heart glow. In the immortal words of an anonymous poet:
Don’t you forget to find someone to love; no matter how busy you are, it’s simple to share a cup of tea and a scone or two. And just in time for Valentine’s Day, I’m launching my own Friendship Blend Tea – a delicious and sophisticated mélange of Rooibos, China Black Tea, Cardamom, Cinnamon Sticks, Cacao Nibs and Flavorings. It has a wonderful chocolate taste and scent without added sweetness. Truly a celebration in a cup! Packaged in a four ounce foil-lined packet it costs $8.75 plus shipping and handling. Email or phone (570-224-6474) to order.
If Valentine’s Day isn’t enough of a celebration, Chinese New Year (2010 is the Year of the Tiger) falls on Sunday, February 14th this year and Mardi Gras on the 16th. So, get your party on!
PS: Look for my article about Dan Robertson, owner of The Tea House, for the March/April issue of TeaTime Magazine.
Valentine Tea Talk
Monday, February 1, 2010, 6:30 PM
Haverstraw King's Daughters Public Library Garnerville, NY
Contact Program Coodinator for details