The Age of Chivalry, Etiquette & Valentine’s Day

Etiquette in the Western world is popularly believed to have its roots in The Age of Chivalry during the European Middle Ages (circa 1100 -1500 A.D.). Throughout this age, kings, queens and knights in shining armor created a code of behavior and ethics that has lasted in some form to modern times.

During this era, the modern concept of St. Valentine’s Day emerged. Although the day harbors a shadowy past stretching back many centuries–its roots buried deep in both paganism and Christianity–there is no doubt about the romance and chivalry that materialized around 1400 A.D., including the heart-shape as a symbol of romantic love and Chaucer’s Parlement of Foulesconnecting St. Valentine’s Day to romance.

Hence, the rise of rules of etiquette seems to be an outgrowth of the celebration of romance and chivalry. Keeping that in mind can guide you through your modern celebration of February 14th, which above all means being attentive, considerate & romantic. The underlying goal of the day is to communicate your feelings to your beloved, or to that intriguing someone you’re trying to impress. Whether you’re in high school, college or starting your career, you can do that in a number of ways that do not involve great expense or environmental impact. Remembering that the trappings are secondary to the message, here are some things to consider:

    • If you’re spending the day or evening with your significant other, tell her or him how you feel. Take a break from the world of electronics and do the old-fashioned stuff: hold hands, look into each other’s eyes, smile, have a conversation, be kind and attentive.
    • Dress a bit spiffier than you usually do and move the needle up a notch or two on the grooming to show respect, seriousness of intent and interest in your companion.
    • Plan something special. Memories of gifts, candy, and flowers might fade, but you’ll always remember an extraordinary day or evening, endearing words murmured or a breathtaking moment. If the weather’s nice, take a long walk in a pretty setting; if it’s cold outside curl up in front of the fireplace with a bowl of popcorn and some hot chocolate.
    • If you’ve been saving a special gift to present on Valentine’s Day, you and your sweetheart should enjoy and savor the moment. But, giving something just to present a gift is not meaningful, and might backfire.
    • For students and unemployed young adults, a single rose in red or the color the recipient loves most, your own recording of favorite poems, a print, travel journal or longed-for book in paperback are all smart, meaningful and inexpensive gifts.
    • For employed young professionals who have more disposable income, consider theatre tickets, dinner out at a favorite restaurant (be sure to make reservations in advance and request the most desirable table possible), a box of quality chocolates, fragrance (be sure you get the right one!), a first edition of your partner’s favorite book, a weekend at a resort you’ve both been wanting to try or a day at a favorite spa.
    • All gifts and outings should be accompanied by your undivided and deeply flattering attention. If everyone behaved as though the other person in the relationship was the only one in the room, every day would be Valentine’s Day!
    • For those who do not presently have an other half, treat yourself to a day or evening of relaxation, or get together with other single friends and acquaintances for an evening that includes conversation and lots of laughs. Turn off your iphone and computer and play Angry Birds, the board game. You can make this gathering formal or informal, big or small, whatever you and your friends can afford and feel like doing.
    • Spending time with your family is also an option. Make it a family bonding evening, with conversation, games, cards, readings and, again, laughs. Being with people you care about is a good way to spend Valentine’s Day.
    • Great last-minute gifts include that single rose or other beautiful cut flower, a big tin of popcorn or mixed nuts with a big bow and a bottle of his or her favorite wine, good chocolates, gourmet coffee beans or favorite teas.
    • For long-distance exchanges, electronics is the green, speedy and economical way to go. When you can’t be face to face, sending e-cards, emails and texts and Skyping is the modern way. Although sending and receiving handwritten cards and notes is a lovely custom, for holidays cyber space is the best way to get your message out fast with little strain on the environment or your wallet.
    • Rain checks may be offered and should always be accepted graciously. These are fast times and often our daily schedules, not to mention special occasions, get away from us. If this happens to you, offer a rain check for Valentine’s Day, and then be sure to follow up on the agreed-upon day or as soon as possible!

February 14th is the perfect day to pay tribute to the Age of Chivalry and gallantry. One of my favorite odes to love and civility is the following passage from 1 Corinthians 13:4–8a in the New International Version (NIV):

Love is patient; love is kind
and envies no one.
Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude;
never selfish, not quick to take offense.
There is nothing love cannot face;
there is no limit to its faith,
its hope, and endurance.
In a word, there are three things
that last forever: faith, hope, and love;
but the greatest of them all is love.

Until next time,



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