It’s Valentines Day and across the world people are experiencing high stress levels – ‘did I get her the right gift?’, ‘oh my gosh, I hope he likes it’ – etc, etc. Is that what Valentine’s Day has become? An event marked by how big a gift is or how much money was spent on it or whether it’s the right gift for the occasion?
And what about the commercial aspects of the day. Shops are filled with chocolates and teddy bears for weeks before Valentine’s Day, hoping to cash in on the celebration.
Well Valentine’s Day has a history – so take a trip with me through the ages and learn what it’s all about.
Saint Valentine’s Day is named after Saints Valentine and was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD. The day first became associated with romantic love in the High Middle Ages. Valentine of Rome was martyred in AD 269 and Valentine of Terni was martyred in around AD 197. There were no romantic elements in the early medieval biographies of these martyrs.
Most historians agree that Valentine’s Day has been celebrated in one form or another for nearly 2000 years. It’s difficult to ascertain how a popular holiday began. There is normally nor an absolutely proven reason but usually a few romanticised legends.
At the core of the stories about Valentine’s Day is Valentinus of Rome. It is believed that hew was executed by Roman authorities during February due to his rebellious religious beliefs.
In one story, Valentine is a priest serving Rome during the 3rd Century. During this time the Emperor of Rome decreed that marriages were to be banned for young men because he felt that men without romantic or familial connections would be better soldiers. The young men he banned from getting married would come to be his military force. St. Valentine, as well as many other Roman citizens, saw the law as unjust and inhuman. Therefore, Valentine continued to marry lovers in secret, which, at the time, was regarded as high treason against the state. After an unspecified period of time, Claudius II discovered Valentine’s clandestine practice and sentenced him to death. In effect, Valentine died trying to save love.
One of the more popular stories behind the holiday is derived from Valentine’s stay in Roman prisons. In this tale, he sends the first “valentine” greeting in history.
As the story goes, Valentine falls deeply in love with a young girl while he is awaiting execution in prison. It is said that the girl came to talk and visit with Valentine every day, creating a strong, loving bond with the saintly figure in a short amount of time. Yet, in the so-called eleventh hour before his execution, the legend says that Valentine wrote his lover one final letter, which he signed, “From your Valentine.”
With these stories taken into account, many believe that the holiday falls in the middle of February to memorialise Valentine’s death or burial.
Throughout history Valentine’s Day is mentioned in literature. Ophelia in Hamlet says –
To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
A collection on English nursery rhymes from 1784 has the following poem:
The rose is red, the violet’s blue
The honey’s sweet, and so are you
Thou are my love and I am thine
I drew thee to my Valentine
The lot was cast and then I drew
And Fortune said it shou’d be you
- Some facts about Valentine’s Day:
• 1 – The red rose was the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. The color red stands for strong romantic feelings making the red rose the flower of love.
2 – Every year around 1 billion Valentine cards are sent across. After Christmas it’s a single largest seasonal card-sending occasion
• 3 – Cupid is a symbol of Valentine’s Day. Cupid was associated with Valentine’s Day because he was the son of Venus, the Roman god of love and beauty. Cupid often appears on Valentine cards and gift tokens holding a bow and arrows as he is believed to use magical arrows to arouse feelings of love.
• 4 – The oldest surviving love poem till date is written in a clay tablet from the times of the Sumerians, inventors of writing, around 3500 B.C.
• 5 – In the Middle Ages young men and women drew the names from a bowl to see who would be their Valentine. They would wear this name pinned on their sleeves for one week. This was done so that it becomes easy for other people to know your true feelings. This was known as “to wear your heart on your sleeve”.