On February 14, couples from around the world recognize Valentine’s Day. For most, Valentine’s Day is a day of love, a day to shower your beloved with gifts and tokens of appreciation, to enjoy a nice meal with them, and to have moments of romance.
Many consider it to be a “Hallmark” greeting-card holiday, created by the retail business in order to get people to spend money on flowers, chocolates, stuffed animals, jewelry, travel, meals, and other luxuries. However, Valentine’s Day is not a modern creation. Rather, it is a day with ancient roots, both cultural and religious. With many legends and tales surrounding Valentine’s Day, the supposed day of love, it can be difficult to ascertain exactly where and how Valentine’s Day originated.
Valentine’s Day is not a global holiday. It is celebrated in many countries, but its classification as a holiday is somewhat limited. It is also referred to as St. Valentine’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Valentine, which gives the impression that the celebrations on February 14 have Christian roots. However, the day is also said to have Pagan origins.
Some say that Valentine’s Day is rooted in an ancient Roman festival. During Roman times, an annual festival known as Lupercalia occurred from February 13 – 15 of each year. During this festival, men would strip naked and swat young maidens with dog- or goat-skin whips, to increase their fertility. This practice began well before Christianity was adopted within the Roman Empire, but continued after legalization of Christianity occurred.
Greek historian Plutarch described Lupercalia in his works, recording, “Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”
In “ Lifes of the Principal Saints” , Alban Butler claimed that a practice during Lupercalia, in which men and women would place their names in jars and the names would be drawn to create pairings, was the start of the ritual of exchanging Valentine’s Day love notes. However, there is no evidence linking Valentine’s Day to Lupercalia, or to the practice of pulling names to pair men and women into couples.
Another possibility for the origin of Valentine’s Day involves Christian priest, St. Valentine. It is alleged that at one point, Roman emperor Claudius II banned marriage to prevent young men from avoiding the draft by marrying. Valentinus, a Christian priest, agreed to perform secret marriages for those who wished to become married. However, it has been argued that no such ban on marriage ever took place, and that Claudius II, in fact, urged his men to take multiple wives.
Another story of St. Valentine claims that a priest by such name was jailed when he fell in love with the warden’s daughter. He would write her notes signed “Your Valentine,” for which he was eventually beheaded. Many Christian priests named Valentine were martyrs, and Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14 in many Christian denominations. In the Anglican Communion it has the rank of ‘commemoration’ in the calendar of saints. The calendar of saints for the Lutheran church includes the feast of St. Valentine. However, in the Roman Catholic Church, the feast of St. Valentine was removed from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints in 1969.
Throughout modern times, Valentine’s Day has continued to evolve. In 1797, mass-produced Valentine’s cards came into production, after the publication of a book called “ The Young Man’s Valentine Writer” . Rather than writing individual notes to their beloved, men could take from these scripts. In the 19 century in England, paper Valentines became very popular, adorned with embellishments such as ribbon and lace. Mass production of Valentines in the United States began in 1847 when Esther Howland, inspired by a Valentine received from Europe, began selling Valentines through her father’s stationery store. Today, stores around the world mass-produce a wide variety of Valentines cards, with images of hearts and cupid, and containing lace and ribbon. Some of these cards are sentimental and romantic, while other are humorous. Cards are no longer meant solely for one’s beloved, as they are distributed widely among young children in school, given to friends, parents, and other family members.
There are as many ways to observe Valentine’s Day as there are cultures that recognize it. European folk tradition ties St. Valentine to the approach of spring. In Norfolk, England, a mystical character named “Jack Valentine” visits houses delivering candy and presents. In Slovenia as well, the saint is related to spring, and is the patron of beekeepers. February 14 in Finland is for remembering all your friends, rather than lovers. In Japan, China and South Korea, Valentine’s Day is observed with the traditional sweets and gifts, but one month later on White Day, March 14, the favor is expected to be returned in kind, with more presents and chocolate.
LUPERCALIA, a very ancient, possibly pre-Roman, pastoral festival in honour of Lupercus. Its rites were under the superintendence of a corporation of priests called Luperci, whose institution is attributed either to the Arcadian Evander, or to Romulus and Remus. In front of the Porta Romana, on the western side of the Palatine hill, close to the Ficus Ruminalis and the Casa Romuli, was the cave of Lupercus; in it, according to the legend, the she-wolf had suckled the twins, and the bronze wolf, which is still preserved in the Capitol, was placed in it in 296 B.C. But the festival itself, which was held on February 15th, contains no reference to the Romulus legend, which is probably later in origin, though earlier than the grecizing Evander legend. The festival began with the sacrifice by the Luperci (or the flamen dialis) of goats and a dog; after which two of the Luperci were led to the altar, their foreheads were touched with a bloody knife, and the blood wiped off with wool dipped in milk; then the ritual required that the two young men should laugh. The smearing of the forehead with blood probably refers to human sacrifice originally practised at the festival. The sacrificial feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs from the skins of the victims and ran in two bands round the walls of the old Palatine city,. the line of which was marked with stones, striking the people who crowded near. A blow from the thong prevented sterility in women. These thongs were called februa, the festival Februatio, and the day dies febraiatus (februare = to purify); hence the name of the month February, the last of the old Roman year. The object of the festival was, by expiation and purification, to secure the fruitfulness of the land, the increase of the flocks and the prosperity of the whole people. The Lupercal (cave of Lupercus), which had fallen into a state of decay, was rebuilt by Augustus; the celebration of the festival had been maintained, as we know from the famous occurrence of it in 44 B.C. It survived until A.D. 494, when it was changed by Gelasius into the feast of the Purification. Lupercus, in whose honour the festival.was held, is identified with Faunus or Inuus, Evander (Eiiavnpos), in the Greek legend being a translation of Faunus (the “kindly”). The Luperci were divided into two collegia, called Quinctiliani (or Quinctiales) and Fabiani, from the gens Quinctilia (or Quinctia) 2 and Fabia; at the head of each of these colleges was a magister. In 44 B.C. a third college, Luperci Julii, was instituted in honour of Julius Caesar, the first magister of which was Mark Antony. In imperial times the members were usually of equestrian standing.