Valentine’s Day is without a doubt my favourite day of the year. This is the day where I celebrate my love, eat a lot more chocolate than I usually do, and wear outfits that I usually don’t.
As I was planning our special day this year, I pondered on the origins of Valentine’s Day. Why the secret cards and gifts? Who was this mysterious Saint Valentine? Why the 14th of February? And although I never need a reason to eat chocolate, I was curious about why this is a traditional Valentine’s gift. So let’s take a journey back in time and explore the history behind this beloved holiday.
The origins of Valentine’s Day can be traced back to ancient Rome, where a festival called Lupercalia was held in mid-February to honour the god of fertility, Lupercus. It is believed that the Catholic church claimed their St Valentine to have died on the 14th February in an effort to hijack this pagan festival, which was eventually outlawed.
During the festival, men would sacrifice a goat or a dog and then use the hides to whip women, in the hopes that it would increase their fertility. Talk about a unique way to show affection!
In another festival activity, women would place their names into an urn. The bachelors of the city would select a name from the urn and they would be paired off for the year.
Claudius 2, also known as Claudius the Cruel, was the Roman emperor in around 2AD. He was an extremely ruthless leader and required vast armies to fulfil his goals. He decided that single men made better soldiers than married men, so he dealt with by outlawing marriage and engagements.
A humble priest, St Valentine, took pity on couples who wanted to be bonded, so he married them in secret. Claudius found out about these secret ceremonies, had Valentine thrown into prison and sentenced to death.
While in prison, Valentine met and fell in love with a young woman, who happened to be the daughter of his jailer.
On the eve of his execution, it is said that he wrote her a sonnet or a love letter using an ink that he squeezed from violet flowers. And of course, it was signed ‘from your Valentine”.
As no records of Valentine’s Day exist before 1375, it is possible that it was made up by the medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer was known for his questionable fact checking, often placing his poetic characters into fictitious historical events and presenting them as real. His work “Parliament of Foules” linked St Valentine’s feast day with a tradition of courtly love, which received widespread attention.
The piece refers to 14th February as the day when birds (and humans) come together to find a mate. He wrote “For this was sent on Seynt Valentynes Day/Whan every soul cometh ther to choose his mate”.
But it was the Victorians who crafted Valentine’s Day into what we know today, but with an edge. Not only were the love interests communicated with, but also suitors or partners who were no longer in good standing. One card read “Tis a lemon that I hand you and bid you now “skidoo. Because I love another – there is no chance for you”. Not the best ever Valentine’s message to receive from your true love.
As for chocolate, it has been a symbol of love and luxury for centuries. The Aztecs believed that chocolate was a gift from the gods and used it in religious ceremonies. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Central America, they discovered chocolate and brought it back to Europe, where it quickly became popular among the wealthy. Can you imagine the Aztecs and the conquistadors falling in love over a cup of chocolate? A true cross-cultural romance. More on chocolate later this month.
Valentine’s Day has often been criticised as just another commercial opportunity for big business. It is indeed a multimillion dollar industry. The people of the USA spend over 20 billion dollars annually on cards, gifts, expensive jewellery and eating out.
For me, it is a day when I gaze into the eyes of my love and remind myself how blessed I am to have such a hot guy to look at every day!
I am reminded of the abundant love I have all around me and the love I have for myself.