“There is always in February some one day, at least, when one smells the yet distant, but surely coming, summer.” Gertrude Jekyll
As we wait for signs of spring and summer it is good to have reminders of bright times. For some the highlight of February will be Valentine’s Day. Early Christian records tell of two St Valentines whose feast day is on 14 February. They lived in the third century and were both martyred in Rome for their religious convictions. Neither seems to have had an explicit link to romantic love.
The connection between St Valentine’s Day and romance is at least as old as Geoffrey Chaucer. In his 1382 poem, Parlement of Foules, he wrote, “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” The medieval belief was that birds start making nests and mating on this day of the year. However it is not clear whether the link between romance and Valentine’s Day started with Chaucer, or whether he was recording a well-known tradition.
As this tradition spread young men felt required to express their feelings through verse and poetry. The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, published in 1797, contained a selection of romantic verses. Those who were not gifted in verse-writing could copy out pre-written valentines to express their love. By tradition women could propose to men on 29th February, as this day was thought to have no legal status and so the normal rules did not apply - 2020 is a Leap Year!
Some authorities think the custom of choosing a partner on St Valentine’s Day retains elements of the Roman Lupercalia, a rowdy festival which took place in the middle of February. This was a time to ward off evil spirits and purify the city of Rome, and to release health and fertility. The word February comes from the instruments of purification which were used, called februa.
Whatever the origin of Valentine’s Day, it now seems that more than a penned verse, original or otherwise, is expected. In 2018 the amount spent in Great Britain for Valentine’s Day was £650 million, an increase of more than 25% since 2015. It has been said,
“February days are a marketing gimmick; love happens every day.”
On February 26th Christian Churches mark Ash Wednesday, a day of devotion and self-examination at the beginning of Lent. Lent is a season when Christians try to focus more on prayer and spiritual studies and on ‘spring cleaning’ their lives.* This helps to prepare for Holy Week and the coming joy of Easter when we especially celebrate God’s self-giving, all-embracing love.
Love happens every day and the word love covers much more than romantic love. However we spend Valentine’s Day or Ash Wednesday, may every day in February be a day when we glimpse something of the sunshine of God’s love, and may we strive to love one another, just as Jesus told his disciples to do.
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.” John 13.34-35Liz Welters, Associate Minister
* The Church of England's Lent Campaign, #LiveLent: Care for God's Creation, has 40 reflections and suggested actions to help us live in greater harmony with God, neighbour and nature. See www.churchofengland.org/livelent
A Brand New Year
So both the scales and the buttons on my clothing were telling a sorry story, so I decide to go on a diet. Again. And a week later, I had managed to put on one and a half pounds. Glum face. The problem is that the choice is between a yummy mince pie now, or being marginally thinner in a week or two’s time. And it is very hard for most of us to go for the delayed reward.
Climate change is not just something for the future. "It's shocking how much climate change in 2019 has already led to lives lost, poor health, food insecurity and displaced populations," said Dr Joanna House, from the University of Bristol. On a day-to-day basis, the impacts of climate change play out through extreme and 'abnormal' weather. Heat waves and floods which used to be 'once in a century' events are becoming more regular occurrences. Countries ranging from the Bahamas to Japan to Mozambique suffered the effect of devastating tropical cyclones. Wildfires swept through the Arctic and Australia,
Christians believe that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,’ (Psalm 21:1), and that God has entrusted it to us to love and care for it. It is God’s gift to everyone and we cannot think of ourselves as isolated from others or from creation. Instead we have a responsibility towards the earth and towards each other to look after it, so that both it and us can flourish.
So as we stand at the start of a brand new year, regardless of all the other very many pressures around us, let’s challenge ourselves once again to do a little more. And no, it probably won’t affect CO2 emissions in China or India, but neither should we underestimate the impact of all our ‘small efforts’ added together.
If you can’t think what you can do, then check out the Church of England’s website on ‘Sustainable lifestyles’:
They suggest we think about: