Every February 14, we see the explosion of flowers, hearts, chocolate, and stuffed animals. But do you ever sit back and wonder why it is celebrated? Who is this St. Valentine and why is it important? Who is the guy with the angel wings and the arrow that shoots you with a bow and you magically fall in love? Well, let’s look back in history. Shall we?
St. Valentine Legend
Saint Valentine of Rome, was a third-century Roman saint widely celebrated. While it is said that he is a combination of two saints, little was known about him outside of his martyrdom. It was agreed by the Catholic church that St. Valentine was martyred and then buried on the via Flaminia to the north of Rome.
There are many versions of why he was arrested and killed. Some say he healed a child and executed later by decapitation. St. Valentine’s history is clouded with mystery, legend, and versions that change often enough to keep us all in the dark.
I read somewhere on the history channel that Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers and outlawed marriages for young men. Valentine said this was injustice, defied the emperor, and continued to perform marriages to young lovers in secret. This is another theory on how he was arrested and put to death.
Pagan Festival of Valentine’s Day
Some believe the celebration of the holiday was to honor the time of year St. Valentine was killed and buried around A.D. 270. Others think it had to do with the “Christianization” or celebration of Lupercalia. It was a festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman God of agriculture.
History.com has a perfect description of this festival.
” To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.”
So, how did Valentine’s Day become the romance holiday?
It was believed in England and in France that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season which was decided to be a romantic time of the year. (Weird tie in, but okay.) The holiday started so as a man could choose his mate. By presenting her with a “Valentine” would ensure that his intentions were made and she was to take it as a future offer of marriage.
It appears that the earliest known Valentine didn’t appear until after 1400 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife who was imprisoned at the time.
I know what you’re thinking. How does Cupid come into this?
In roman mythology, Cupid was the son of Venus, the goddess of love. (Tie in to current “romance” holiday) According to legend, Cupid would play with the hearts of mortals and gods to cause mayhem. He enjoyed watching the temporary desires and the slow and hard coming down of a broken heart.
This is where you get the child shooting arrows at people making them “fall in love.” Pretty sick when you look at the history of it all. The baby wasn’t a baby at all, he was a “heartthrob” and was also called Eros, meaning desire. The baby came later as a way to wash down the darker parts of the history of Cupid.
Exchanges of Valentine’s
By the late 17th and early 18th century, Valentine’s Day was popular in many parts of the world. It was popular to exchange tokens of affection between lovers and friends. They would write hand written notes or use printed cards.
Esther A. Howland, an American in the 1840s, produced the first “mass” Valentine in America. Today, she is considered, “The Mother of Valentine,” for that task. So, I guess we have her to thank for the yearly explosion of cards all over the world.
Today, we have millions of Valentine’s Day cards, along with the tokens of affections that get bigger and bigger as the years wind on. This is where you get your flowers, chocolates, stuffed animals, and the like.
So, tell me. Did you know the history of Valentine’s Day? Did it surprise you? Does it make you look at the holiday differently?
Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.