When one thinks of February the color red automatically comes to mind. The most obvious is the red found in sentimental Valentine’s Day cards or the bright red heart-shaped box of chocolates. It is a welcome color coming in the middle of a drab winter. It adds a cheery note to an otherwise depressing month which is just one of many in the long march of winter.
February has been celebrated as the month for lovers going as far back as Roman times when it was celebrated as the beginning of spring and renewal of life with various pairings of unmarried men and women and fertility rites. The exact origins of Valentine’s Day are unknown with the Catholic Church recognizing at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.
One legend from the third century Rome reports that Emperor Claudius II decided single men made better soldiers and outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Claudius discovered Valentine’s actions he ordered Valentine’s execution.
A second legend suggests Valentine may have been killed attempting to help Christians escape Roman prisons where they were beaten and tortured. Still another legend suggests Valentine may actually have sent the first valentine greeting himself. While in prison, Valentine fell in love with a young girl who may have been the jailor’s daughter. It is said that before his death he sent a letter to the young girl and signed it “From your Valentine”.
Regardless of which legend is the truth it is evident that Valentine is portrayed as a sympathetic, heroic, and romantic figure. By the Middle Ages Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France. Valentine’s Day was regularly celebrated by the seventeenth century in Great Britain. By the eighteenth century it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection in handwritten notes. By the end of the century printed cards began to replace the written notes. Americans began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s.
February is also known as “Go Red” month by the American Heart Association. Since 1963 Congress has required the president to proclaim February “American Heart Month to urge Americans to join the fight against cardiovascular diseases. During American Heart Month thousands of volunteers visit their neighbors to raise funds for research and education and to pass along information about heart diseases and stroke. Cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke are the number one killer in the United States.
In addition, one day each February is designated as National Wear Red Day to help bring recognition to the message that heart disease is the number one killer of women. The Red Dress was adopted as the symbol for women and heart disease awareness in 2002. The color red and the red dress have become linked with the ability all women have to improve their heart health and live stronger, longer lives.
You are at a higher risk of heart disease if you are:
- A woman age 55 or older
- A man age 45 or older
- A person with a family history of early heart disease
Heart disease can be prevented. To keep your heart healthy:
- Watch your weight
- Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke
- Control your cholesterol and blood pressure
- If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation
- Get active and eat healthy
- Talk to your doctor about taking aspirin every day if you are a man over the age of 45 or a woman over 55.
- Manage stress
So red is seen in not only in Valentine greeting cards and heart-shaped decorations but also in red sweaters and dresses donned to celebrate American Heart Month. Whatever the reason, celebrate red this month for the pure joy of it and for love and life.