You gotta have heart!
The History of Valentine’s Day
Every February 14 we celebrate Valentine’s Day by giving flowers, candy and cards to lovers or those we hope to love.
Even though Valentine’s Day falls on February 14, the feast day of several Christian martyrs named Valentine in the third century A.D., its customs probably began eight hundred years prior to the establishment of Valentine’s Day with a couple of Roman pagan celebrations.
The custom of sending lover’s greetings on February 14 may have no connection with either saint, but dates from the later Middle Ages, when it was believed that this day marked the beginning of the mating season for birds. So the priest’s martyrdom may have just provided a name for the annual celebration of avian sex.
The Feast of Lupercalia:
In ancient Rome, February 14th was a day honoring Juno, the principal goddess of the pantheon and the wife of Jupiter, worshiped as the goddess of women, marriage, childbirth and the moon, and as the protector of the state.
The following day, February 15th, began the Feast of Lupercalia. This celebration originated as a tradition in the third century B.C. During this time hordes of wolves roamed outside of Rome where shepherds kept their flocks. The God Lupercus, Roman God of flocks and fertility, was said to watch over the shepherds and their flocks and keep them from the wolves. The feast was in honor of Lupercus so that no harm would come to the shepherds and their flocks.
The celebration featured a lottery in which the names of girls were written on slips of paper and placed into a vase. Young men would draw a girl’s name from the jar, making these two partners for the duration of the festival. The girl assigned to each man also would be his sexual companion during the remaining year. Often, they would fall in love and would later marry.
In the year AD 312 something happened that would change Roman religion forever.
Constantine the Great, Emperor of Rome (306–337 A.D.), had a sign from the god of the Christians in a dream the night before an important battle. Emperor Constantine won the battle and thereafter showed his gratitude to the Christian god by turning his entire empire over to this new religion.
As Christianity became prevalent attempts were made to replace old heathen practices, especially the erotic festivities at the Feast of Lupercalia.
In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius changed the name of the Lupercalia festival to St. Valentine’s Day, and ordered a slight change in the
lottery. Instead of the names of young women, the box would contain the names of saints. Both men and women were allowed to draw from the box, and the game was to emulate the ways of the saint they drew during the rest of the year.
Not too surprisingly, this prudish version of Lupercalia proved unpopular, and by the fourteenth century they reverted back to the use of
In the sixteenth century the Church once again tried to have saintly valentines but it was as unsuccessful as the first attempt.
Although the church had banned the lottery for women, the mid-February holiday in commemoration of St. Valentine was stilled used by Roman men to seek the affection of women. It became a tradition for the men to give the ones they admired handwritten messages of affection, containing Valentine’s name.
But the early Christians were anything but quitters, so it was on to Plan B: modulate the overtly sexual nature of Lupercalia by turning this “feast of the flesh” into a “ritual for romance!”
Since St. Valentine (Valentinus) had been martyred on February 14, 269 A.D. the Church could also preempt the annual February 15 celebration of Lupercalia. The only problem was that Valentinus was a chaste man, unschooled in the art of love.
To make the chaste Saint more appealing to lovers, the Church may have “embellished” his life story a little bit. Since it happened so long ago, records no longer exist. But if it didn’t happen this way, it certainly makes for a better story…
While it can’t be proven historically, there were seven men named Valentine who were honored with feasts on February 14th. Of these men, two stories link incidents that could have given our present day meaning to St. Valentine’s Day.
One of the men named Valentine was a priest during the reign of Emperor Claudius II (268 to 270), full name, Marcus Aurelius Claudius Gothicus, A.D. 214–270 who defeated the Goths in 269.
Emperor Claudius was heavily recruiting men to serve as soldiers for his wars without much success. The men preferred not to leave their wives, families and sweethearts to fight in foreign lands. The Emperor wanted the men to be heartless and fearless soldiers, free of wives and girlfriends. Claudius decreed that no marriages should be celebrated and that all engagements be broken off immediately.
Father Valentine thought this to be unfair, and secretly performed marriages in and around of Rome. Found out not too long later, Valentine was imprisoned, where he either:
1. Languished and died or
2. Was beaten with clubs and then beheaded when all attempts to make the priest renounce his faith had proved fruitless.
Devoted friends buried him in the church of St. Praxedes on the fourteenth of February, 269 or 270 AD.
Father Valentine was a kind and wise person who had a lot of friends. They begged the Emperor to free him and sent letters and flowers to jailed Valentine. Many think that these were the first “Valentine” letters and flowers sent.
The second Valentine was an early Christian in the time when Rome was unfriendly to this upstart religion or supposedly Bishop of Turni, a region in central Italy. For helping some Christian martyrs he was seized, dragged before the prefect of Rome and cast into jail.
There he was said to have fallen in love with, and cured the jailor’s daughter, Julia, of blindness. When news of this miracle spread, Rome’s leaders gave orders that Valentine should be beheaded. The morning of the execution, he is said to have sent Julia a farewell message signed, “From your Valentine.” words still used on cards today.
Sometimes these versions are all woven into one, as did all of the seven Valentines eventually evolved into one!
That gets us back to 496 when Pope Gelasius declared the day of the Feast of Lupercalia in honor of St. Valentine.
Despite the efforts of the Church, Valentine’s Day continued to echo Lupercalia in at least one respect – men and women would draw lots to select a “valentine.” The couples would exchange gifts.
The custom of lottery drawings to select Valentines persisted well into the eighteenth century. Gradually, however, a shift took place. No longer did both parties exchange gifts; instead, gift giving became solely the responsibility of the man!
This new twist helped to finally bring an end to the random drawing of names, since many men were unhappy about giving gifts (sometimes very costly) to women who were not of their choosing. And now that individuals were free to select their own Valentine, the celebration took on a new and much more serious meaning for couples!
February 14th was the day that Europeans, during the Middle Ages, believed the birds began to choose their lifelong mates.
“For this was Seynt Valentine’s Day when
every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”
— Chaucer, in his “Parlement of Foules”
Other Valentine Customs
A young girl was supposed to marry, eventually, the first eligible male she met on this day. If a girl was curious and brave enough she could conjure up the appearance of her future spouse by going to the graveyard on St. Valentine’s Eve at midnight. She would then sing a prescribed chant and run around the church twelve times.
In England, little children went about singing of St. Valentine and collecting small gifts. It was also customary to place valentines on their friends’ doorsteps.
— Andy Gilchrist