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Valentine’s Day is a day many people revere as one for lovers. Places across the world and all across the United States gear up for the special day to exchange gifts, flowers, and candy for their loved ones. The history behind the day named after Saint Valentine dates all the way to the ancient Roman ritual of Lupercalia that welcomed spring to the card-giving traditions of Victorian England.
The romantic holiday has long been celebrated in the month of February. This day has remnants of both ancient Roman and Christian customs. However, do many know who Saint Valentine was or how he became associated with this ancient rite?
This is a question many have pondered over for years. There are at least three saints named Valentinus or Valentine who were martyred by the Catholic Church.
One of the legends says that Valentine was a priest who served in Rome during the third century. He violated Emperor Claudius II’s decree that said young lovers were banned from marrying. The emperor felt that young single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families. When Valentine’s defilements were discovered, Claudius II ordered that he be put to death.
Others believe a bishop named Saint Valentine of Terni was the true namesake of the romantic holiday. Unfortunately, he was also beheaded by Claudius II outside of Rome.
Another Valentine’s Day legend suggests the saint was killed for attempting to assist Christians to escape from Rome’s harsh prisons. While in these facilities, Christians were often tortured and beaten. In the lore, the first Valentine’s Day greeting was sent when the saint was imprisoned.
The legend states he may have sent the Valentine’s Day card to a young woman — possibly his jailor’s daughter — whom he fell in love with; she visited him during his confinement. He allegedly signed the letter, “From your Valentine.” This expression is still used today.
Others believe the romantic holiday stems from a pagan celebration of Lupercalia or to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s burial or death — which probably occurred around the middle of the month in A.D. 270.
Lupercalia celebrated the ides of February, or February 15. It was a fertility festival dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus. The celebration also honored Roman founders Romulus and Remus. At the end of the 5th century, Lupercalia was outlawed as it was deemed “un-Christian.” Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day during the same time period.
The first to record the romantic holiday was English poet Geoffrey Chaucer in his 1375 poem “Parliament of Foules.” In it, he wrote, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”
The oldest valentine greeting in existence today is a 1415 poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. It is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydfates a few years later to compose a valentine greeting to Catherine of Valois.
The god of love, Cupid, has often been portrayed on Valentine’s Day Cards as a naked cherub who launches love arrows at unsuspecting couples. Cupid’s golden arrows were used to incite love and leaden ones to sow aversion.
The romantic holiday is celebrated in places like the U.S., United Kingdom, Great Britain, Australia, France, Mexico, and Canada.
By the middle of the 18th century, it was common for lovers and friends of all social classes to exchange handwritten notes or small tokens of affection. In the 1900s, printed cards started replacing scripted letters.
Later, people would celebrate the day by going out to a restaurant, going out to the movies, or enjoying a concert. Some enjoy celebrating Valentine’s Day with a romantic picnic with their loved ones.
COVID-19 caused a damper on most romantic plans for a little bit. Date night out became date night in as plans were made to accommodate quarantine mandates. People would decorate special rooms to have indoor picnics.
Some like to dip foods in chocolate to celebrate Valentine’s Day. This is not only fun to do with a romantic partner but children can have fun dipping foods in chocolate too.
Relaxing with a movie marathon is always something someone can do with a loved one, family, or just by themselves. One movie is just another regular day of the week. Allowing oneself to watch several in a row; now that is a date night.
A few other romantic ideas one can do to celebrate are to go roller skating, go for an intimate stroll, check out a magic show, take a cooking class, ride in a horse-drawn carriage, or take a dinner cruise.
Written by Sheena Robertson
History: History of Valentine’s Day
Travel Triangle: Valentines Day In Chicago 2022: 15 Ways To Celebrate The Day Of Love In The States; by Sushmita Ghangas
Town and Country Magazine: 11 Ideas to Celebrate Valentine’s Day at Home This Year; by OLIVIA HOSKEN
Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Liviu Ghemaru’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Kumar’s Edit’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Angelia Hardy’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License