Recently an Associated Press Release about “Sweethearts” caught my attention and caused me to reminisce about celebrating Valentine’s Day in the days of my childhood. According to the AP release, Necco, which had been making the little captioned candy hearts called “Sweethearts” since 1886 (my childhood doesn’t go quite that far back), filed for bankruptcy protection and went out of business last July; consequently, it was announced there would be no Necco candy hearts for sale this Valentine’s. Although Spangler Candy Company bought out Necco, Spangler observed that they would not have Sweethearts on the shelves again until 2020.
There are a couple other candy companies, including Brach’s, that have been making candy hearts which seem similar to Necco’s but aren’t the ones we loved as kids, and of course those were on the shelves this week.
Thinking about the candy hearts and Valentines we bought and exchanged at Dime Box Rural School and the demise of Sweethearts got me to reminiscing about why we bought and made heart-shaped objects on Valentine’s Day in the first place. Why not give stars or diamond-shapes? This heart symbol developed above and beyond the many legends of the several Saint Valentines history and legend record.
The Book of the Heart by Eric Jager explores the symbolism of the heart and its relationship to love, both romantic and altruistic. The shape of a heart as we know it today became a symbol of love during the Medieval Era, when it was believed that the human heart was literally the center of our emotions, love, of course being only one of the emotions. The actual hearts of birds and some other animals look more like a Valentine heart than the human heart does. Since it was against the law to dissect a human being in the Middle Ages, people knew only what animal hearts looked like.
Cupid, or Eros, was the Greek god of love, and so some of the earliest Medieval Valentines depicted Cupid throwing arrows, roses, and hearts at lovers. Romantic love became the focus of Valentine’s Day celebrations at first, in spite of the fact the Saints who were named “Valentine” embodied agape, or Christian, love.
When we exchanged Valentines in Elementary School, we exchanged them with all our friends, boys and girls. We used to draw and color our own Valentines in the third and fourth grades, and in our silliness, we would write verses on them like, “Roses are red, violets are blue, if I had a brick, I’d throw it at you.” By the time we started feeling “romantic” about the opposite sex, we were considered too old to exchange Valentines in school.
Today, we send Valentines to folks we really care about, from grandparents to parents to teachers to best friends, no longer considering them messages of just romantic love, but all kinds of love that touch our lives. And out of this has grown the use of many, many expressions we hardly even think about when we say them. We describe a neighbor as “warm-hearted,” a friend as “kind-hearted,” a bully as “mean-hearted,” someone who is extremely aloof as “cold-hearted,’ a coward as “weak-hearted,” etc.
I found myself saying of someone the other day, “She has a really good heart.” I remember as a college student, we had excessively hard professors whom we described as “having hearts of stone.” I’ve heard people say things like, “She’s as dumb as they come, but she has a warm heart.” The heart is one of the most important symbols in our life.
A most touching use of this symbol happened recently, and it is so moving I think it’s worth sharing. We have a member of our church who is deaf, a young boy who has been a member since I baptized him as a baby. My wife has been his Sunday School teacher for a long time. This past Sunday, he was communicating with a deaf interpreter visiting our church, and he signed to her that his Sunday School teacher (my wife) had a “happy heart.” We thought it was one of the best compliments she had ever been paid.
Happy Heart Day to all of you!
Ray Spitzenberger, a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor, has recently published a book, It Must Be the Noodles, on sale at amazon.com