Synonymous with love and romance, the day of Valentine’s needs no introduction. Celebrated every year on February 14 around the world with much enthusiasm, the festival has intrigued many because of its interesting origins that are as interesting as they are mysterious. Though various stories of its conception have surfaced over the years, the one that is most widely accepted is associated with Saint Valentine.
As per a popular belief, back in the third century, when Emperor Claudius II Gothicus reigned over the Roman Empire, all marriages and engagements were cancelled. The tyrant believed that unmarried soldiers would be more willing to dedicate themselves to the cause of war. No one had the courage to stand up against the cruel law. Myth has it that a priest named Valentine resisted this law by holding secret marriage ceremonies for soldiers before they headed to war. Once the Emperor learnt about the priest trespassing the stringent law passed by him, his anger knew no bounds and he imprisoned him, announcing that he would have him executed.
It is believed that while he was in prison, Valentine fell head over heels in love with a blind girl, who was the daughter of the jailor. Before his execution, he penned a letter to the girl, signed, “From Your Valentine”. An even more romantic version of it says that the girl’s vision came back after she read the words written by the priest in the letter.
Adding to the many interesting tales that exist around the day of love, one is that Valentine was executed for helping Christians flee the Roman prisons, where they were tormented. Thus, there is not one tale, but many that have been associated with the legend of Valentine. Nevertheless, the priest was looked upon as a hero by the people, who saw him as a symbol of love. In his honour, they organised a feast to confer sainthood upon him. February 14 was chosen as the day of the feast since an ancient belief held that it was the mating day for birds.
The origin of Valentine’s Day is also attributed to the Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated in the 5th Century. Occurring in mid-February that marks the beginning of spring for the Romans, the festival had a unique tradition that consisted of boys drawing out names of girls from a box. The boy and the girl would be girlfriend-boyfriend on the day. At other times, they would even be wedded to each other. As the popularity of the festival caught on, the Church designated the day as Valentine’s Day, supposed to be a Christian day of love. The day was also supposed to be an ode to St Valentine.
Interestingly, there is another story behind Valentine’s Day that is not as mushy as one would imagine it to be. As per history, while the festival of Lupercalia celebrated in Rome was all about love, it also had gory traditions attached to it. These rituals included sacrificing animals like dogs and goats to encourage fertility and purification in women. Lupercalia, however, was eventually forbidden for it was considered unchristian.
The Oldest Valentine Poem
Not many know that the oldest Valentine poem was written way back in the 15th Century by Charles, Duke of Orleans. The poem, which was addressed to his wife, was penned by him while he was kept captive in the Tower of London following the Battle of Agincourt. The precious poem is currently housed in the coveted British Library in London as part of its vast manuscript collection.
Facts About Valentine’s Day
- The history of hand-made greeting cards made for Valentine’s Day can be traced to the 19th Century in America when Esther A. Howland, also known as the “Mother of Valentine, began selling valentine cards on a massive scale. The cards, bedecked with lace and ribbons and other visually appealing material, were quick to catch the imagination of Americans. These were known as “scrap”.
- The largest number of cards are exchanged during Valentine’s Day next only to Christmas.
- A large number of romantics send letters to Verona, Italy till date. Believed to be a good luck charm with regards to love, these letters are addressed to Juliet, the female protagonist of ‘Romeo & Juliet’- a literary masterpiece. You will be amazed to learn that each letter is answered religiously by a dedicated team of the Juliet Club.
- Chocolates are commonly exchanged on the day of love around the world. The tradition, however, can be credited to Richard Cadbury. The chocolate manufacturer eyed the festival as a great opportunity to sell chocolates.
- Cupid, who embodies Valentine’s Day, was known as Eros by the Greeks. Eros, the God of Love, believed to be the son of Aphrodite, is famously represented with two arrows- one for love and the other for hate.