Valentine’s Day is Weirder than you think!

Spread the love

Seasonal: History of Valentine’s Day
By Donovan Darling, Staff Writer

Valentine’s Day incites cliché images of roses, cartoon Cupids, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and mushy romantic comedies. While these days we harmlessly celebrate with candy, expensive jewelry and candlelit dinners, the origin of the holiday isn’t as cute or marketable as you would think. As far as we know, the history of Valentine’s Day dates back hundreds of years to pagan rituals in ancient Greece and the Roman Empire to greeting cards in the 19th century.

In ancient Rome, when Emperor Claudius II decided single men made better soldiers than married men, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, a priest, realized how unjust this was of the Emperor, so in defiance of the Emperor he performed marriages in secret. Eventually his rebellion was discovered by authorities and he was sadly executed, later recognized as a martyr and St. Valentine. The life of a saint, am I right? As the story goes, he left his daughter a note signed “Your Valentine.”

The modern holiday is celebrated on the same day every year, February 14 (so don’t forget!), but the ancient Romans and Greeks had celebrations this time of year even before St. Valentine. Unlike Valentine’s Day, however, the Roman holiday Lupercalia was a bloody, violent, and (ahem) sexual celebration full of animal sacrifice and random matchmaking and coupling in the hopes of warding off evil spirits and infertility. The Festival of the Arcadian Lykaia, held on February 15th in ancient Greece, celebrated the god Pan’s founding of his temple, a day when the city was cleansed of evil spirits and people’s souls were purified, bringing health and fertility. As often happened when many pagan festivals were renamed, in 496 AD Pope Gelasius outlawed the pagan festival of “Lupercalian” and renamed it The Feast of Saint Valentine, to be celebrated on the 14th of February.

Fast forward to the late 15th century, when the word “Valentine” was used to describe a lover in poems and songs of the day, such as this translated line by French poet Charles d’Orléans: “I’m already wearied by love, my very sweet Valentine.” Later in the 1840s, Esther A. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” sold the first mass-produced valentines in America, elaborate creations with lace, ribbons, and colorful pictures. Her early valentines pioneered the commercial tradition of buying and gifting fancy cards to loved ones on Valentine’s Day. According to current data, an estimated one billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year.

Over the centuries, Valentine’s Day has been a religious celebration, a ritual full of violence and warding off evil spirits, poor health and infertility, and is now a sappy commercial holiday. The mysterious and complex origins of this holiday allows the meaning of Valentine’s Day to be truly whatever you want it to be. You can skip the celebrations completely, buy yourself some chocolate, wine and flowers and find a good romantic comedy to watch with pizza. Or you can express your love (and platonic love!) and appreciation for the people in your life, whether they’re spouses, family or friends.

valentine's day, chocolates, candies-2057745.jpg

Some of us love Valentine’s Day, and some of us love to hate it. If you’re wondering what to do on Valentine’s Day, just know that there are no rules: It’s a new era, and you can celebrate the day of love however you want, even if it’s just through self-love.