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Now that football season is over, hopeless romantics can look forward to the best time of the year.

No guys: I’m not talking about spring training. Valentine’s Day is coming.

It’s the third-worst day of the year to forget — after your anniversary and your wife’s birthday. Valentine’s Day is a sharp rap to the side of husbands’ heads that we should actually do something nice for our wives, who deserve flowers every day of the year merely for putting up with us.

I did hear once about a Norwegian farmer who was told he needed to be more romantic on Valentine’s Day. So he asked his wife to help him make heart-shaped piles of feed for his dairy cows.

The farmer’s bachelor brother went looking for Romance and found it. There on the Wisconsin map was the tiny hamlet, named Romance, in Vernon County. According to “The Romance of Wisconsin Placenames,” a book written in 1969 by Robert Gard and Leland Sorden, it’s located “in a valley between hills of beautiful forests, conducive to a romantic mood.”

I am not speaking for all in the male gender, but try as we might it’s part of the natural order of things that we are as a rule insensitive and take our spouses for granted, despite our best intentions not to do so. Why is it we can remember the exact time of the Super Bowl kickoff or when our next oil change is due but can’t remember details about dates or about our wedding day?

That’s why we need Valentine’s Day.

But the holiday of hearts and candy did not start out as romantic as it is today. Some historians say the holiday is linked to the ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia, which was to protect people from wolves. In this celebration, instead of bringing flowers and gifts, young men whipped women with strips of animal hide. And the women took the blows because they thought the whipping made them more fertile. The ceremony concluded with a lottery of sorts to select a mate.

There’s no truth to the rumor that I just wrote the plot line for the next “50 Shades” movie. Still, that’s a long way from roses, greeting cards, chocolate and engagement rings.

St. Valentine himself, although he left a parting love note for his girl, did not die in the arms of loving family members. He was beheaded and martyred on Feb. 14 because he refused to worship the Roman gods — like Cupid, the god of love.

But even our ancestors had a way to turn beheadings into marketing opportunities. In the early 1400s, people in England celebrated the day by passing verses and romantic messages, a tradition started by poet Goeffrey Chaucer. Chaucer had the romantic notion that birds began to choose their mates on that day.

The oldest known Valentine in existence is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. I cannot verify that the poem began with “Roses are red, violets are blue ...”

In the 1700s, wealthy men gave fancy-dress balls to honor their Valentines and showered them with gifts. Sometimes they would wear the Valentine’s names on their shirt sleeves for days: thus the saying, “wearing his heart on his sleeve.”

It also tells you something about the bathing conditions of the 1700s, but that’s another story.

Once the American marketing machine cranked up, Valentine’s Day became an important holiday and retail event. The first mass-produced Valentines were created in the 1840s by Esther A. Howland, known as the Mother of Valentine.

We should take time to remember the lonely this time of year. The problem of loneliness has become so severe in Britain the country has appointed a Minister for Loneliness.

As Dave Barry would say, I’m not making this up.

Prime Minister Theresa May has appointed Tracey Crouch as the lonely minister. She is the under-secretary for sport and civil society in the culture ministry. A 2017 report found more than 9 million people in Britain often or always feel lonely.

“For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life,” May said. “I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly … by those who have lost loved ones — people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.”

The Office for National Statistics is to help establish a method of measuring loneliness. A fund would be created to help the government and charities develop a strategy to combat the problem. I’m sure it will involve more social interaction with tea and crumpets.

I suspect there is little support from our government to tackle the issue, even though we too have plenty of lonely folks. I’m pretty sure one of the Kardashians will have a TV series on the topic. But that’s for later. Now we need to focus on the estimated $18 billion in stimulus – economic, I mean – that results from Valentine’s Day.

There are some who dislike the commercial nature of forcing romance, but I for one appreciate it. Valentine’s Day reminds me of what’s important.

Right ahead of spring training.

Former Tribune editor Chris Hardie and his wife, Sherry, raise sheep and cattle on his great-grandparents’ Jackson County farm.


Local news editor

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