Thursday, March 17, 2011


February is National Heart Month.  All seriousness aside, how did we come to have the heart shape?     : it doesn’t look much like the human heart, and it certainly does mean more than just a representation of it.  I won’t bore you with the details, but there are even mathematical formulas for arriving at various heart-shaped curves.  Well, you just know I had to google it!  I tell you, I’ve yet to find a topic on which I can’t find at least a few entries on Google.  Of the thousands of entries, it turns out that almost everything you wanted to know about the topic is available on The heart shape has been one of the most common symbols in Western culture since before the last Ice Age. Fascinating!! The shape can symbolize romantic love, passion, and strong emotions. The symbol is of significance, always positive, in most major world cultures and religions.

We may laugh at this today, but from the time of the ancient Egyptians, classical scholars thought the heart was the center of reasoning, thought and emotions.  The Egyptian priests, believing the heart to be the seat of the soul, left it in place and discarded the brains of those they were mummifying.  It seems odd because we all realize that we’re thinking from our heads, so why would they disregard the brain.  The brain has made our symbols - but what is the symbol for the brain?  There it is!  The interrogation mark.  Inquiring minds want to know.

I think my first contact with the heart would have been in association with Valentine’s Day.  February was chosen as National Heart Month because we associate the heart with St.Valentine, patron saint of lovers, whose feast day is February 14.  Hearts on the little cards we exchanged in school, heart-shaped doilies, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. (Me, I’d rather have a Whitman’s Sampler so I know just which ones - the caramels -  to pick first.)  I remember a grade school Valentine’s Day party where the table was decorated with lots of pink and red crepe paper: hearts and flowers, table cloth and all.  Someone tipped over a candle, and the whole thing went up in a moment.  Who wouldn’t remember that Valentine’s Day?

Home is Where the Heart is. Have a Heart. Hard Hearted Hannah. Peg o’ My Heart.  Heart and Soul. With a Song in My Heart.   Idioms, expressions, song titles.  Our lives abound with references to the heart.  The symbol shows up every day.   I New York: that rebus started the current trend back in the 70‘s.  New York tourism took a big boost with the clever idea.  Now everyone is trying to get the same boost,  -ing everything from dog breeds to heart-healthy foods.  
From yester-year’s lacey paper hearts and simple expressions of love, we now have a Valentine’s day so commercialized it includes dozens of long-stemmed roses and heart-shaped diamonds, the more money the merrier.  Well, maybe not for all of us - though we can dream, can’t we?

(originally posted February 1, 2011)

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