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Thanks to the Discovery and History Channels, I’m pretty much obsessed with finding out the origin and history of things. So I thought, Why not write a post about the origins of St. Valentine’s Day? It turns out that the history of Valentine’s Day is abstruse and is made more confusing by the various legends surrounding its origins.
Some authors claim that the holiday’s roots are in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility commemoration celebrated annually on February 15. The pagan festival of Lupercalia is one of the oldest holidays, and perhaps that is why some of the details of its rituals have been lost. It is said a goat was sacrificed and the hide of the animal was cut into strips, which were later used as whips. Young men would strip naked or wear elaborate masks (made from goats’ heads) and run around whipping young women.
The ritual was to ensure fertility. Striking the women may have represented penetration. The symbolic penetration, broken skin, made by a piece of a fertility symbol (the goat), was apparently thought to be effective. Each man would also draw the name of a young woman in a lottery and would then keep the woman as a sexual companion for the year. Pope Gelasius I re-formed this pagan festival as a Christian feast day circa 496, declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine’s Day.
There were three St. Valentines mentioned by the martyrologies of the Roman Catholic Church, and it’s not clear which one the day is honoring.
According to legend, one of the Valentine martyrs was beheaded on February 14th for secretly performing illegal Christian marriages for soldiers. Supposedly, the Roman Emperor Claudius II forbade this in order to expand his army, believing that married men did not make good soldiers.
St. Valentine theoretically wore a purple amethyst ring, which was customary for Christian bishops, with an image of Cupid engraved in it, a recognizable symbol associated with love that was legal under the Roman Empire. Roman soldiers would recognize the ring and ask him to perform the marriage ceremony for them. Possibly because of the connection with St. Valentine, amethyst has become the birthstone of February, and it is thought to attract love.
Legend states that St. Valentine cut hearts from parchments and gave them to the soldiers to remind them of their vows and God’s love, a possible source of the common use of hearts on St. Valentine’s Day.
Also according to legend, St. Valentine miraculously cured his jailer’s daughter, Julia, of blindness. On the evening before Valentine was beheaded, he wrote Julia the very first ‘Valentine’ card himself, signing it ‘your Valentine’. Hence, modern Valentine letters later adopted the expression ‘From your Valentine’. I don’t know about you, but I feel there’s a passionate romance story in there somewhere. Anyway, that’s what I’ve pieced together as the history/legend of Valentine’s Day.
Here are some interesting facts regarding Valentine’s Day:
* A recent poll found that 1 in 10 young adults admitted to feeling lonely, insecure, depressed, or unwanted on Valentine’s Day.
* 40% of people have negative feelings toward Valentine’s Day.
* Penicillin, a popular treatment for venereal diseases such as syphilis, was introduced to the world on February 14, 1929.
* The phrase ‘sweets for the sweet’ is a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Do you have negative feelings about Valentine’s Day? How do you feel about the Holiday?