February 14: Valentine's Day
There were two saints called Valentine, both bloodily martyred Outline script for assembly leader Each year in Britain we spend around pound;503m on cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts for Valentine's Day. Traditionally, these were sent anonymously, but nowadays we often make it clear who is sending each "Valentine".
We know little about the real St Valentine. There was certainly a priest called by that name in Rome in the 3rd century, when Christianity was suppressed by the state. He was imprisoned for helping Christians who were condemned to death. In prison, he cured a prison warder's daughter of blindness. She and her whole family became Christian, which so annoyed the Emperor Claudius that he ordered Valentine to be clubbed to death on February 14, 269. Then his head was chopped off, just to be sure he was dead.
In the same year, another man called Valentine (who was Bishop of Terni) was also put to death by Claudius for being a Christian. Neither Valentine seems to have had much to do with romantic love.
Our Valentine traditions stem from the fact that this time of the year was the Roman festival of Lupercalia, when young men took part in a lottery to win a girlfriend, and because this is the season when birds pair up and start mating. The custom of sending cards showing flowers and hearts (a symbol of romantic love) dates from the start of the "penny post" in 1840 and rapidly became popular. Victorian postmen were soon demanding extra pay because they had so many letters and cards to deliver on this day.
Nowadays, we are as likely to send electronic Valentine's Day messages or place jokey announcements in newspapers.
Follow-up Organise competitions for the most romantic (homemade) Valentine that's suitable to give to a girl, and one to give a "new man" or a caring hero.
Encourage pupils to search available poetry anthologies for suitable lines or verses to quote in Valentine cards.
The British Heart Foundation (logo above) is asking people to buy pound;5 card-making kits to raise money to help mend real broken hearts. Details: www.bhf.org.ukrealvalentine or Tel 0800 358 5800. The website www.bhf.org.ukyoungpeopleindex.asp?secondlevel=396 provides a direct link to teaching resources arranged both by age group and by curriculum area.