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Valentine’s Day: Its History And Celebrations



Valentine’s Day: Its History And Celebrations

Valentine’s Day has been touted as Lovers’ Day or the day we celebrate love and all its complications.

Come February 14th of every year, the day dedicated to a mythical saint is remembered by almost every person on this planet, from giggling kindergartens scribbling their first Valentine’s card to giggly teenagers swooning over their nth crush to giddy adults shelling hundreds of dollars to give away as gifts to their significant others.

But have you ever wondered how Valentine’s Day came to be? Read this article to find out.

How It All Began

While its history is muddled, Valentine’s Day is likely to have begun in ancient Rome. The Romans of long ago celebrated a feast called Lupercalia. This was a pagan festival that was celebrated from February 13 to 15.

Unlike the more rosy-glowed holiday that it would become centuries later, Lupercalia was violent, bloody, and involved sex.

The festival itself was celebrated as far back as 6th century B.C. It was done in honor of the legendary founders of Rome, the twins Remus and Romulus.

As babies, the twins were ordered to be drowned in the Tiber River by their uncle, the king as punishment for their mother, who had broken her vow of celibacy. Luckily, a servant laid the boys in a basket and allowed it to be carried down the river.

The babies were found by a she-wolf, who took them to her den and nursed them. The twins were adopted by a married shepherd and grew up, later learning of their ancestry.

After exacting their revenge on the king, the boys returned to the wolf’s den and called it Lupercal, in honor of the she-wolf who took care of them and as an homage to Lupercus, the Roman god of fertility.

The den, found at the bottom of Palatine Hill, is considered the spot where the ancient city of Rome was founded.

Because Lupercalia was named after the fertility god, who, by virtue of his powers, encouraged sex, the festival itself encouraged mating.

The names of women who were at the right age were placed on a jar and men would pick one at random.

The woman whose name the man picked would become his mate during the festival. Although the arrangements were temporary, some couples stayed together, and others even went on to marry.

As for the bit on animal sacrifice, priests would perform a ritual killing of a goat, who symbolized fertility, and a dog, who symbolized purification.

The goat’s hide will then be cut into strips and dipped in blood.

The priests, mostly members of the Luperci, would then run naked through the streets, slapping any woman they could find with the bloody strips of hide.

Women did not mind the ritual slapping at all because it was believed that the hides made them fertile, and thus, attractive as future mates.

The Rise of Christianity

Lupercalia continued to be practiced even as Christianity became more dominant.

However, the ritualistic practice of slaying animals, random coupling, and naked priests did not sit well with the more conservative Christian values and Lupercalia was later outlawed.

In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day. But who is this Valentine?

Your Valentine

St. Valentine was a Catholic saint and martyr or make that Catholic saints and martyrs because there are at least three of them.

According to one legend, Valentine served as a priest in Rome during the 3rd century.

During this time, Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage so that young men could be turned into soldiers instead of husbands.

As defiance against the emperor, Valentine performed marriages in secret until he was discovered and subsequently executed.

However, his sacrifice to ensure that lovers are wed did not go unnoticed and he became associated with love and romance.

In another legend, Valentine was supposedly a man who assisted persecuted Christians so they can escape from the cruel Roman prisons.

When he himself was imprisoned, Valentine supposedly wrote a love letter to a young woman he loved, signing it “From your Valentine”, thereby creating the first Valentine’s greeting himself.

A Day for Lovers

Greeting loved ones during Valentine’s Day dates back to the Middle Ages, although letters and cards written for the event did not become popular until the 1400s.

The oldest valentine that still exists to this day can be found at the British Library in England. It was written by the Duke Charles of Orleans as a message to his wife.

The earliest known mention of Valentine’s Day appeared on a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer, titled “Parliament of Foules”, which he wrote in 1375.

The popularity of St. Valentine’s Day continued to grow and by the 18th century, it was already being celebrated in many parts of the world.

Printed Valentine’s cards with ready-made sentiments appeared in 1900, allowing lovers from many areas to profess their undying love.

In 1840s America, the first valentines greetings made through mass productions were sold. It was only a matter of time before other products were offered for willing consumers to buy.

Today, about 145 million special Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged every year and Americans will likely spend nearly $24 billion to celebrate that thing called love. Not bad for a special day that originated from a violent pagan holiday.

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