Not All About Romance: A History of Valentine’s Day
by Anne Marielle Eugenio, February 14, 2019 3:04pm
Art by Dani Elevazo
With malls and convenience stores' windows covered with heart cutouts, restaurants offering discounts for two, and travel packages for couples every February, it is impossible to miss Valentine's Day. This non-special holiday is not exclusive to romantic couples. Other than the feast day of St. Valentine of Rome on February 14, Valentine's Day is associated with the Roman god of love Cupid and birds' mating season. It is also linked to the Roman pagan festival Lupercalia, which involved fertility rites.
It’s about time we recap the basic facts about Valentine’s Day.
Valentine of Rome
We have been celebrating Valentine’s Day for as long as we can remember. Its origin remains a mystery. But there are two Saint Valentine strongly associated with the celebration of love.
He was either a Roman priest or a bishop of Terni who performed marriages for lovers in secret when Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men. Apparently, for Claudius, men without wives and children performed better in war than those who have. The emperor discovered his actions and soon, he was imprisoned. Legends say he was imprisoned in the house of a noble. During his stay, he healed his jailer's blind daughter, causing the whole household to convert to Christianity. Other stories say Valentine fell in love with her. Before he was martyred on February 14, he sent the girl a message signed "from your Valentine.”
Some legends suggest Valentine was sentenced to death for helping Christians escape from Roman prisons where they are tortured.
A Pagan fertility festival
Apart from Valentine’s Day being the festival of St. Valentine of Rome, it also has origins in the Roman festival of Lupercalia. It is celebrated every mid-February as a fertility rite, pairing off women with men through drawing lots. Women would put their names in a big urn, where men get to choose their pair for the year.
Lupercalia is a festival dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus, and the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. The Roman order of priests called Luperci would gather in the cave where the two founders were raised by the Roman mythology she-wolf Lupa and perform rituals for fertility and purification.
Until the rise of Christianity, people in Rome observed Lupercalia. Pope Galasius soon replaced the festival with St. Valentine’s Day since Lupercalia was against Christian belief.
It’s not all about romance
The Roman god of love Cupid is one of the most popular symbols for Valentine's Day. The celebration we know involves chocolates, flowers, and presents inclined to romantic couples. But this occasion was not all about romance. Valentine’s was first associated with love in the Middle Ages when “Canterbury Tales” author, Geoffrey Chaucer, used the saint’s name in one of his poems.
Chaucer’s poem Parliament of Fowlsdescribes a group of birds coming together to mate. He wrote, “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” In the Middle Ages, birds are believed to mate during mid-February, which is the reason why birds are sometimes symbols of Valentine’s Day.
Even with all these facts and information, the actual history of Valentine’s Day remains vague. But we have all of these people to thank why we have a day every year where we can celebrate love--love of all kinds and types.
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