Growing up in Vrin, a small mountain village in Switzerland, Valentine’s Day had nothing to do with buying flowers and candy for the object of one’s affection. February 14 was a religious feast in honour of St. Valentine, a martyr who paid with his life for his faith, and also a celebration of friendship and community.
Vrin was quite isolated, and nobody in town owned a car; we walked everywhere. About 70 per cent of the population lived in the town proper. The remaining 30 per cent, including my family, were divided between several hamlets up the mountain. People lived off mixed farming and livestock breeding, and their main interests were family, work and faith. They worked hard, but they also had good times together.
The church was the building were everybody got together, and most holidays had some connection to religion. There was a main church in town, but every little hamlet had its own little chapel.
The chapel in one of these hamlets was devoted to St. Valentine, and people would trek up the mountain on February 14 to attend a service there. After that, all the people in the various hamlets invited some friends from town to stop at their houses and have dinner and an afternoon of chatting and playing cards and games.
Those get-togethers were important occasions for all of us and I remember my mother having a thorough housecleaning before the day. Everything had to be shining when the guests arrived. We always invited about a dozen people to the feast and I was allowed to ask one of my school friends. We all looked forward to St. Valentine’s Day as it was an occasion to visit with friends and neighbours and take it easy — at least until it was time to feed and tend to the livestock, a chore that had to be done, holiday or no holiday.
Despite the hard work that was done day after day, people knew how to enjoy the rare times they could spend in relaxation, relying on each other and keeping community ties alive.