Most people think that the holiday devoted to Eros is nothing more than a date manufactured by card companies as a way to push their product. And in fact, greeting-card retailers report that nearly one fourth of their yearly sales occur in accordance with Valentine’s Day. However, the holiday isn’t just some hoax perpetrated by those who sell sentimental greetings. It does, in fact, have some basis in historical fact (and rumor). Although companies that sell cards, flowers, and chocolates have definitely seized on February 14th as an opportunity for capitalistic fulfillment, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a history behind the holiday that gets hit with Cupid’s arrow.
If you’re looking to find the facts, you might be interested to know that this holiday comes as a convergence of two different religions. Romans (and previous peoples of the area) originally celebrated a “pagan” festival from February 13th to the 15th known as Lupercalia. It involved ritual cleansing and purification of an area to bring about fertility. It probably led to a lot of babies being born around the end of the year, hence the love aspect. When Christianity moved into the Roman Empire, they likely decided (as they usually did) to adopt the native holidays into their canon as a way to reduce conflict for those wishing to join the church (without cutting ties to their traditions). And here’s how they did it.
Although there were actually three possible figures identified as the basis for St. Valentine, the most likely suspect seems to be a bishop who was practicing in Rome during the reign of Claudius II (the latter part of the 3rd century A.D.). At that time, Rome was facing enemies on several fronts and Claudius decided that the best way to keep the resolve of his soldiers strong was to deny them the right to marry (he felt that wives and kids would pose a distraction). Not surprisingly, the soldiers didn’t take too kindly to this restriction, and often found ways to marry in secret. Enter Valentine. According to legend, he was one of many clerics who helped soldiers and their lovers come together in the holy unity of marriage.
Unfortunately, Claudius wasn’t very pleased when he discovered Valentine’s antics and quickly put him in jail. He might have lived, except for the fact that he tried to convert Claudius, thus offending the emperor and virtually signing his own death warrant. The next part of the story is largely chalked up to rumor, but it is said that he healed the daughter of one of his jailers, becoming good friends with her thereafter. And just before his death sentence was carried out, he sent her a note reading “From Your Valentine”, starting a tradition by which young lovers exchanged written vows of love called valentines.
Following his death, the Christian church made Valentine a saint, supposedly in concert with the date of his execution, February 14th. Although it could simply be coincidence that this date falls smack in the middle of Lupercalia, it is far more likely that the date was chosen so that the fertility rite could be easily folded in with a Christian holiday (as saint days were cause for celebration). In any case, the date eventually evolved into what we see today, with the giving of valentines reaching a height of popularity during the Victorian era, when many of the formal decorative elements were added (hearts, lace, cherubs, and so on). So if you’ve always thought that Valentine’s Day was just a means of getting people to buy cards, you should know that the tradition and history tied up with this holiday has more to do with religion than worshipping at the altar of consumerism.
Shirley Simpson writes for Ryson which specializes in vertical conveyors and incline conveyor systems to help reduce your business operation costs.