Saturday, February 16, 2013

The History behind St. Valentine's Day

I'm a little late on this, so forgive. Someone asked me about St. Valentine so I thought I'd share.  Valentine's story is mired in myth and legend. No one knows the definitive background of this romantic Saint, but we do know he existed – and inspired long ago.

What we do know isn't much. Archaeologists have uncovered a tomb in the Old Roman catacombs dedicated to the Saint. In 496 A.D., 14 February was declared a day of honor to the Saint by Pope Gelassius.

There are three prevailing myths surrounding Valentine. The first one dates back to when Claudius II was Emperor of Rome, in the 3rd Century A.D. (270 A.D., to be exact) Claudius determined single men made better soldiers and forbid the Roman soldiers to marry. Valentine, a priest, defied Claudius and married the soldiers. When Claudius found out what Valentine was doing, he had him put to death.  

The second myth, which could easily blend into the first, had Valentine in jail. (Probably awaiting his fate that Claudius had decreed)  While in prison, Valentine fell in love with the jailor's daughter. Before he was put to death, he sent her a letter and signed it, "From Your Valentine," thus, staring an expression that you can still find on Valentine cards today.

The third myth, which again, could easily blend into the first and second, making this all one myth, involves the pagan Roman celebration called Lupercalia. The Romans considered February the start of spring and with the onset of spring, they found it a time for purification. Houses were cleaned and swept. Salt and wheat were sprinkled throughout their home as part of their custom of purification. Lupercalia began on the Ides of February (15 February) and dedicated to the Roman god of fertility as well as the Roman founders of Romulus and Remus.

The church had a habit of taking pagan Roman celebrations and fitting them into the calendar to make them more "politically correct." It was Pope Gelassius who outlawed Lupercalia, and it was believe St. Valentine's feast day replaced it in order to "Christianize" the pagan ritual. 

While the official reason has been lost to history, I don't see why all three of these myths can't be melded together to found the basis of the day we celebrate now.

Interestingly, different cultures nowadays have different takes on the 14th of February. In the Western world, cards, flowers, and chocolates are traditional gifts. In Finland, it's known as Friend's Day and it extends to friends as well as loved one.

In Turkey, the day is known as Sweetheart's Day. Interesting since most of Turkey follows Islam. In most Asian countries, notably Japan, the only recognition of St. Valentine's Day is a custom where only the women give men chocolate. There is a reply day for the men to return the favor to the women.

Countries like India, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan try to have the holiday banned. At a minimum, the governments in those countries discourage participation, but there is a thriving black market of roses and wrapping paper.

Information taken from Online Sources including Wikipedia.

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