February can be a tough month to get through. The holiday season is over, the sky is dark and the air is cold. Yet there is a magical day in February where we get to spend precious time with the one we love, and celebrate romance. Of course I am talking about Valentine’s Day, which falls on February 14th. Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, USA, the UK, France, Australia and Mexico. On this day millions of people give someone they care about a token of their love. It may be a hand written valentine, or a box of chocolates, a dozen red roses or a diamond ring. It doesn’t matter what you give, all that matters is that it comes from the heart. But how did this tradition begin? Let’s take a look at Valentine’s Day through history.
The Ancient Fertility Festival
Long before the romance, February 13th to 15th was the date the Ancient Romans celebrated the festival of Lupercalia. Lupercalia honoured Lupa the she-wolf in Roman Legend who suckled the twins Romulus and Remus that grew up to found Rome. It was also dedicated to Faunus, the God of Agriculture. The festival was to ensure purification and fertility in the city. It was run by the Luperci, Roman priests who would meet in a sacred cave and sacrifice goats and a dog. They would strip the hides off of the animals and cut them into strips and dip them into the blood. They then took the bloody strips through the streets and would slap both the ground and young women with them to ensure fertility. Lupercalia was a very popular festival that continued on into the 5th century AD when Pope Gelasius outlawed it. Some scholars believe this ancient fertility festival was converted into the Catholic holiday celebrating Saint Valentine, at a time when the Church was trying to suppress the ancient religion and spread Christianity. There are others who believe Lupercalia’s only connection to Valentine’s Day is the date and nothing more.
Who Was Saint Valentine?
Saint Valentine was a 3rd century Roman priest who was martyred on February 14th and is associated with romantic love and valentines. But so little is truly known about him that the Roman Catholic Church removed his name from their official Calendar of Feasts in 1969. So what do we know? Well there were actually records of three different Saint Valentines who were all killed on February 14th. One was a priest in Rome, one a bishop in Terni, and one was a priest in Africa. The first two Valentines were said to be persecuted and murdered during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, which has led some scholars to believe the stories may be from a combination of them both. There are few facts about Saint Valentine’s life but his legends still live on. The most well-known legend is that the Emperor Claudius II had outlawed marriage, as single young men made for better soldiers for his army. Valentine defied the law and married young lovers in Christian ceremonies. For this he was sentenced to death, and became a saint of love. Another legend had Valentine imprisoned for helping Christians, and while in jail he fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer. Before his execution he had healed the daughter’s eyesight and left her a letter that he signed “from your Valentine”. Whether there is any truth to these stories we will never know, as it is lost to history.
Birds of a Feather
In 1382 English writer Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his poem “Parliament of Foules” for the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. One line stated “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate” which referred to the idea that birds’ mating season began in February. This appears to be the first time in history that Valentine’s day is connected to the idea of romance. On February 14th of the year 1400, the High Court of Love was established in Paris, which dealt with love contracts, marriages, betrayals and violence against women. Charles, Duke of Orleans wrote the oldest known valentine in existence in 1415 to his wife while he was imprisoned in the tower of London. By the 1600’s Valentine’s Day’s link with romance was a popular concept and was mentioned in Shakespeare’s Hamlet when Ophelia proclaimed “To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s Day, All in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine.”
By the 18th century it was common for friends and lovers to exchange small tokens or handwritten notes on Valentine’s Day. In 1797 “The Young Man’s Valentine Writer” was published, helping men write sentimental verses in their cards. The Persian poetry of flowers had been imported into Europe, and people believed that each flower had a specific meaning. By the Victorian times people would give a bouquet of flowers to their loved ones to send a specific message. And red roses, which had been tied to passion and love since ancient times, became the number one choice to give your valentine. In the late 1800’s mass produced printed valentines began to replace hand written ones and were usually covered in lace, ribbons, and colourful pictures. Around the same time Cadbury started producing chocolates that were sold in beautifully decorated boxes. It is believed they invented the very first heart shaped box. These boxes were marketed to be used as keepsake boxes to hold letters, locks of hair and love notes. By the 1980’s jewellery companies began promoting diamonds and jewellery as the perfect Valentine’s Day gift.
Love Is Everywhere
These days over a billion Valentine’s Day cards are sold each year. And recent years have seen a rise in the number of people who send e-cards on February 14th. Even though the origins of this holiday are clouded in mystery, people just love to come together to celebrate LOVE! And why not! Whether it is little kids exchanging cards, young couples exchanging roses and chocolates, or a married couple giving the gift of jewellery, the most important thing about this holiday is not the actual gift, but the act of showing someone how much they are loved.