A Celebration of Love - the Most Romantic Day of the Year
On February 14th every year, we cast away our usual reserve and leap headlong into a poetic sea of romanticism.
Our love messages may not be as elegantly written as Keats, Shelley, Byron, or Browning, but they are nonetheless sincere.
It is a day to show everyone, and particularly our loved ones, that they are appreciated and loved. We exchange valentines, gifts of flowers, chocolate, jewelry, fragrances, all in the name of a certain St. Valentine.
Who is this Valentine?
What did he do to inspire such a lovely custom?
The story of St. Valentine is shrouded in mystery. There were several noted Valentines in Rome at the time the stories were circulating. The Church canonized three St. Valentines. (Will the real St. Valentine please stand up?)
Let’s start our investigation with a brief history of ancient Roman festivals. During these times the Romans celebrated their gods. The festival of Lupercalia paid homage to the god Lupercus. It was thought that Lupercus protected the shepherds and their flocks from the wolves. In a way, this was a pagan precursor to our own Valentine’s Day. The festival was a lottery in which young men and women put their names into a box and names were drawn by lot. The boys and girls who were matched this way would be considered partners for the year. I’m not sure if people were forced to participate, but this must have been very uncomfortable for many of the young people, even though many of them eventually married.
The Pope had a better idea. He also wanted to dispense with the pagan ritual. The idea was to put names of saints into an urn. Young people then drew a name of a saint from the urn and were expected to emulate that saint throughout the year. Not a popular idea amongst the youth of the day, who much preferred to draw each others’ names.
There are two stories that link incidents, that can give meaning to our contemporary St. Valentine’s Day.
One story was of a priest named Valentine during the reign of Claudius II. This priest was popular, and loved by all. Claudius was trying to recruit an army for his wars. He wasn’t having much success, though, because the men wanted to stay home with their wives and families. So Claudius simply outlawed marriage. No one was allowed to be married or to become engaged. Behind the scenes, Father Valentine, who thought the Emperor was unfair, performed marriages in secret. Needless to say, our Valentine was thrown into prison where he was executed. He chose love and fairness over the Emperor.
Another story is of a Saint Valentine who was thrown into prison for helping Christians. While in prison, he fell in love with his jailer’s blind daughter. Valentine cured his love’s blindness and was then (you guessed it) executed by an enraged Claudius. Before his execution, Valentine wrote a letter to the jailer’s daughter and signed it “from your Valentine”.
In 496 AD, Pope Geliasius declared February 14th the day to honor St. Valentine, who has become the patron saint of lovers.
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In Europe, during the Middle Ages, it was thought that the birds chose their mates on February 14th, and that doves and pigeons mate for life. And thus, those two birds became the symbols of fidelity.
Cupid, son of Venus in Roman mythology, is the most famous Valentine symbol. He has always played a role in the celebrations of love and lovers. Cupid is a winged child with a bow and arrow. Those arrows are aimed at gods and humans alike, causing them to fall deeply in love.
A young frenchman, Charles, Duke of Orleans, was one of the earliest creators of Valentines, called “Poetical or Amorous Addresses”. He was imprisoned in London in 1415 after the battle of Agincourt. He sent many Valentines to his wife in France.
Valentine’s Day ranks second only to Christmas in terms of the number of greeting cards sent.