The Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and I’m sure you have planned a lunch date, a coffee at your favorite place, or a movie night to celebrate the day with someone special! We all celebrate the day to express our affection and gratitude toward the people we love. But if you read the story of Valentine’s Day, you’ll know that ‘Valentine’s Day wasn’t always about love.’
Yes, you read it right. There’s way more to this special day than red roses, handwritten notes, and heart-shaped chocolates. Although how we started celebrating the day is still a mystery, there are various theories about the story of Valentine’s Day. Let’s unfold the history books to know how and why we started celebrating Valentine’s, the day of love.
Lupercalia: The Pagan Holiday
When we talk about the story of Valentine’s Day, the earliest reference that appears is the Pagan holiday called Lupercalia. The Romans used to celebrate this festival from Feb. 13 to Feb 15. This involved a ritual in which men would strip naked and sacrifice a dog and a goat. They would collect the strips of hide from the sacrificed animals to whip women in the name of promoting fertility. Young women would line up to get hit, believing this would make them fertile.
Lupercalia also included a procedure in which young men would draw names of women from a jar to decide who will couple with whom for the duration of the festival. If the match would be right, both of them would couple for longer. Back then, Lupercalia was popular, and surprisingly, people celebrated it even till the last few years. As Romans moved away from paganism and accepted Christianity, the Lupercalia holiday evolved into a day honoring St. Valentine. People eventually condemned the festival at the end of the 5th century, and Pope Gelasius announced February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day around the same time.
Who exactly was Saint Valentine?
The story of Valentine’s Day starts with the name of St. Valentine. While some estimations tell that there were more than three valentines, some even claim that there were as many as 30+ valentines. According to a study, two saints stand out in terms of being the namesake for Valentine’s Day. Surprisingly, both the valentines shared numerous similarities, which gave rise to another conspiracy theory that they were the same man. Being martyrs, both valentines were put to death by Claudius II, the Roman Emperor in the third century. Adding to the mystery, both men are said to have died on February 14th, but in different years.
The first Valentine was a priest who was arrested during the Roman persecution of the Christians. Speaking before the Emperor, Valentine did not agree to quit his faith and therefore the emperor sentenced him a house arrest as a punishment. The head of the house in which Valentine was kept challenged him to prove the power of god. In response, Valentine restored the sight of a young blind girl and the whole house was converted to Christianity. Once the emperor got to know about the miracle and the conversion, he executed Valentine.
The second priest named the Bishop Valentine of Terni was also known for his miraculous ability to heal physical disabilities. He healed a scholar’s son who was unable to speak or straighten his body. As a result, the whole family as well as the visiting scholars accepted Christianity. Soon, the emperor arrested the Bishop and beheaded him as he also refused to convert to paganism.
The Truth behind the ‘Romantic Connection’
Apart from their names, both the priests have little to no resemblance to the romantic notions of the Valentine’s Day that we celebrate today. Research by Jack B. Oruch shows that Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to give a romantic angle to St. Valentine’s Day. He was a poet who did it in his poem ‘The Parlement of Fouls’ in the 14th century.
The research suggests that the poet may have linked the day with the romance more or less by chance, as Valentine’s Day is around the time when bird in Europe start mating. In the later years, renowned poets, including the veteran Shakespeare followed Chaucher’s lead. This took the romantic connotations forward as far as today. This was perhaps one of the major turning points in the story of Valentine’s Day.
The Evolution of the Story of Valentine’s Day
From the 14th century till today, we have seen Valentine’s Day develop into a festival of romance and love. People celebrate this day by spending quality time with their loved ones, and exchanging gifts, jewelry, chocolates, cards, etc. Such is the fever of Valentine’s Day that the old tradition of sending handwritten notes and letters is still a popular way of confessing love on the day.
However, despite its immense popularity across the world, the Valentine’s Day celebration is still not prevalent in some countries like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. In a majority of these countries, the day is not celebrated as it contradicts their religious beliefs. While in some countries like India, a group of people refuses to celebrate the day as they believe it promotes western values.
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