Tag Archives: Love

Hugs and Kisses

Typical Card Page 1

XOXO Alert!

It’s almost St Valentine’s Day, February 14th, hereinafter called “the day.” This year the day somewhat coincidently comes one day after the Super Bowl. Don’t allow that extravaganza to make you forget your sweetheart and cherished ones.

The coincidence is because the “big game” is occurring about a week later this year than most others in recent history. That’s because the NFL, like other professional leagues – in their never-ending quest for money – has decided to add a 17th game to each team’s schedule.  [Don’t even get me started on the NBA and their addiction to China’s money, see here, here, here, and many others.].

The day is often annotated with flowers, candies, dates, proposals, photos, notes and cards with images of Cupid, the cards and notes often signed off with XOXO.

Less often are references to the massacre of that day and name, administered in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in north Chicago, in 1929.  Lore has it that the gore can be attributed – directly or indirectly – to Prohibition.

Who was St Valentine?  Historians and theologians disagree on just how and why to connect said saint to this romantic date, mostly because there were three Saint Valentines – all three were martyrs, executed by the Roman emperor.

St Valentine, 3rd Century

The most likely story is that of a Saint Valentinus (ca 225-270 CE).  He was a priest in what would be modern day Italy. He was sympathetic to the romantic inclinations of young men who were serving in the Roman military.  The Emperor, Claudius II, believed that single men made better warriors.  As Valentinus knew that love knows no bounds, he married the smitten men to their beloved sweethearts clandestinely.  He might have believed that this helped keep them more chaste when far away from home.  His secret was eventually discovered; he was beaten, tortured and beheaded.

The day? Whether legend or truth, or perhaps related to one of the other “Valentines”, the day of Cupid and putting love and loyalty on the calendar this particular day, is that it is presumably the date of his execution.  At least in the west; in eastern Christianity it falls on July 6th.

Or, the day could be related to the Roman celebration of Lupercalia, which by Christian times, had evolved into something of a pre-spring fertility festival.  Lupercalia was celebrated around the Ides of Februarius, which was regarded as the last month of the year for ceremonial purposes. Should we mention that fertility and “love” are related? Early Christians were pretty good at appropriating the dates of existing rituals to help with conversions and make proselytes feel more “at home.”

Linguists might notice the “Lup” in Lupercalia and wonder if there is a wolf involved.

Well, there is a wolf involved.  Historically, going back a few centuries BCE, the party festivities were to honor Lupa, the she-wolf who nursed and nurtured Romulus and Remus – the mythical founders of Rome.

[By the way, I’m pretty sure that Valentine’s Day has nothing to do with the urban slang meaning for she-wolf, which is “promiscuous woman”, or worse: “prostitute.”]

And Cupid?  The cute chubby fellow who adorns so many cards? He’s the Roman god of passionate love and physical attraction. He’s that cherubic and precocious imp who shoots arrows that, upon hitting their human target, provoke physical and emotional feelings: in short, uncontrollable desire. In one mythologic tale he accidently shoots himself, and thus he himself must suffer the ordeal of love.  How apropos.

Modern Day Cupid

Cupid, like many Roman Gods, was “stolen” from the Greeks, whose name for the corresponding god was “Eros”.  Eros to Greeks meant the same as what Cupid was the god of: passionate physical love.  Romans’ Latin even stole the very word Eros: from which we get the English words erotic, eroticism, erogenous and the like.  Etymologically, eros is both the Latin and Greek word for physical, passionate, sexual love.

One might wonder why Cupid, a god who can rule over one of mankind’s strongest emotions, is most often depicted as a winged, tubby little pre-pubescent lad. Why not a strong muscular figure? This transition seems to have pre-dated Christianity and even the Roman adoption of Eros as Cupid.

Wings? Well, he is a god, so the wings make sense, I suppose.  But better is the line of thought that people who fall in love are “flighty.”

A flabby whiskerless boy? With a little bow and arrow? He is a mere boy because, like youth, love can be so very irrational.  The mighty physique of early Eros was replaced with a bow and arrow to show he still had power.

Speaking of eros, eroticism and such. In Christian tradition, there are four types of Love (most languages, like English, don’t have enough words for this rich domain of emotions).  One is Eros, which is the special intimacy that exists between wife and husband.  Two of the other three are Agape and Charity.  I forget the 4th.

Anyhow, that’s a bit of a path to near to the end of this essay and the end of any Valentine’s Card, where you might find XOXO.  [This is also inscribed at the end of notes, or, nowadays, within text messages].  We all know this means hugs and kisses – or kisses and hugs – right?

Until recently I’ve always had this backward, thinking that O meant kiss (looks like a mouth to me) and X is the hug (looks like 2 arms crossing).  But no, ‘tis ‘tother way ‘round.

Seems as though the X comes from the time not so long ago when most people were illiterate but were required to sign a legal form or document.  So, they wrote just “X.”  They could have made any symbol, but the first letter in the Greek word for Christ is χ. That’s Chi, which looks like an X.  (Pronounced “K-eye”, or “kai”). The symbol was meant, in effect, as attesting before Christ the Lord that your “signature” was a true testament: a sacred vow. Then, to establish validity, they then kissed the X – as in “sealed with a kiss.”  That might be legend, but it’s as good as any other explanation.

Speaking of the Greek letter χ, it is near the end of the Greek alphabet.  The way the coronavirus is mutating, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of the chi-variant before this is over.

Back to XOXO.  As for O in the XOXO script, it’s a “hug” because it’s supposed to be two sets of a pair of arms, each individual pair forming a semi-circle. Linked together, they form a full circle. Looking down from above, it’s two people in full hug, – well, the arms form a distorted loop, or circle. And, if the arms make a circle, which symbolizes true love – no beginning and no end, they’re like a wedding ring.  Another legend has it that many Ashkenazi Jews who immigrated into America were also illiterate.  Upon entry they also had to sign documents.  Seeing Christians mark their documents with an X, they went the opposite way and used O.  Which offsets the X, but doesn’t convey quite the same thing as hugs and kisses.

Despite all the above—the legends, the myths, the lore and the gore, the guesses and the tangents – this much is true: February 14th is Valentine’s Day.  And – truth – it’s as good a day as any to show special people in your life just how important they are.  Card or note? Sure. Sign it “Love”, mark it with an X, an O, or an XOXO. And we’re not playing tic-tack-toe here.



Joe Girard © 2022

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

February Amore: When in Rome, you amateurs

What’s Love got to do with it?  –
famously recorded by Tina Turner,
written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle

Last month, as an amateur writer (I always was and probably always will be), I wrote a piece about January as a pathway for touching on some tidbits of an autobiographical nature, self-reflection, as well as contemporary culture.

And now we are in February, the month of Love, as it brings us both Valentine’s Day, the 14th, and Random Acts of Kindness Day, the 17th.

Gonna geek-out here a bit. February – by virtue of some topics connected to it – is a rather curious month.  It has only 28 days, except once every 4 years when it has 29.  And thanks to Pope Gregory XIII and his attention to astronomers, the 29th day is not added in years ending in 00 – unless the first two digits are divisible by 4 (hence 2000 – with a “20” prefix – was a leap year, whilst 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not).

Curious indeed, and great reminders that there is no reason whatsoever why the time it takes the earth to make a cycle around the sun should be any simple multiple of the time it takes for the earth to spin around itself one time. {Notes on “years” and “days” below [1] and [2] }

Many ancient cultures had calendars. They were necessary for everything from government administration, to drawing and enforcing contracts, and especially for agricultural cycles. As with much else, we can trace our modern Western calendar – and February – back to the Romans.  The Romans had several calendars over the centuries, and sometimes more than one at time.

And we would be correct in guessing that, for quite a while, they had only 10 months per year.  The Roman year began with March, as it is the time of spring and new life.  We can clearly see this in the names of many months that they left for us: September, October, November, and December.  These are ordinal partners for numbers 7 through 10. For parts of Roman history the remainder of the year was a monthless winter period; and would reset as spring approached with March.

Eventually the monthless periods were filled in with January and February … then months number 11 and 12 by the old calendar, and months 1 and 2 by the administrative calendar.

This all changed with Julius Caesar.  He made 365.25 days/year the law of the land and fixed the calendar year at 12 months.  He named the 5th month after his family (July), and deemed it should be 31 days.  So, he nicked a day off the 12th month, February, reducing it to 29.  [Not much later, Caesar Augustus did likewise, reducing February to 28).  And then he moved the beginning of the year for all to January.

The month before spring was a time of cleansing, to prepare for the year ahead, and for the coming seasons of work – in the fields, vineyards, time to make war, etc.  The ritual of cleansing was called “Februa”, related to the verb “to cleanse”: februare.  And, voila, there you have it.

As an unverified side thought: It is possible this is related to the Christian similar season of Lent.  Just a guess, but we do know Jews had done a spring cleaning of sorts for millennia (it’s probably part of the reason the bread at Passover was unleavened), and also performed a new year spiritual cleansing between Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur.

Moving on. February is Cupid’s month, for it gives us Valentine’s Day, a day to honor the emotion of love and praise the ones we love.  For example, Amore.  Love. 

Dean Martin’s Amoré album cover with his smash single: That’s Amoré

I can’t help but think of Dean Martin singing That’s Amoré whenever I hear that word.

And what about related words?  Ami: a good friend or even a lover.  Amiable: kindly, friendly, worthy of love.  Amity: friendly, affectionate, loving (but don’t forget the story and movie Jaws occurred on and near fictional Amity Island). We also get easily to the words enamored and amorous.  And paramour: a lover (although usually used as an illicit lover).

We find it in the girl’s names. Amanda: she who is loved. Amy: a beloved child.

And in the amenities at hotels: things we just love to make our visit a little nicer.

What about that often-pejorative word “amateur”?  Pejorative, as in: “Oh, what an amateur mistake”, and “He’s just a rank amateur.”

What’s love got to do with that? Show me some love here.

An “amator” in Roman times was a friend or lover. But by the time it arrived in English centuries later, it had passed through French, picking up both the Frenchy spelling “amateur” and a somewhat new meaning: someone who does something purely for the love of it.  That is, for personal passion.

Whether it’s a hobby like golf, playing piano, writing, or gardening; or a service to your community, church or synagogue – to be an amateur is to put effort into activities without any financial compensation.  It’s just for the love of it.

To call someone an amateur is not an insult.  It is a complement. It is nearly an act of love itself. It is to identify someone as one who does something simply out of love.  Is there a better reward than love?  Even self love?

So, here’s to February – that weirdest of months.  And here’s to cleansing ourselves, spiritually and physically. And here’s to the amoré, the passion, and the amateur in all of us.  After all: To live is to love.


Joe Girard © 2021

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[1] Actually, what we call a “year” is not quite the same as the time it takes the earth to make one trip around the sun.
It’s the time from one March Equinox to the next.  A perfect 360 degree trip around the sun is a sidereal year; the one we use on our calendars is the tropical year.  They are different by about 20 minutes.  Why? Because the earth’s axis is precessing at a period of about one cycle each 26,000 years.
So, a calendar “year” is not set up to measure the earth’s orbit around the sun, per se.  It is set up to measure the seasons. This is the difference between tropical year (seasonal) and sidereal year (by tracking a presumed motionless star background)

[2] There is no reason to think that the time required for a trip around the sun, or from equinox-to-equinox, should be anything like a simple multiple of the time it takes the earth to spin around itself.
In fact, a single such revolution is not a day.  Not by several minutes.  A “day” is the average time from noon until the next noon.  The current best estimate of “days” per “year” is 365.2425

The length of a tropical year and solar day even drift and wobble.  Perhaps it’s time for a piece on just what “time” really means.  And that leaves us with Chicago (or back then, the Chicago Transit Authority): Does Anyone Really Know What Time it is?