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Top : Holidays : Valentines : The History of Valenitne's Day

The History of Valenitne's Day

~ Faith Johnson

Every year as February comes around couples and romantics start talking about St. Valentine's Day. Loved ones purchase candy, flowers, cards and other sweet gifts to exchange. But had you ever thought of why we celebrate St. Valentine's Day? Who is this saint and why do we honor him by exchanging gifts in the name of romance?

There are ties to both Christian and ancient Roman tradition, so, as Christians, why do we celebrate it? Mostly because of saint Valentine. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.

One legend tells of a priest by the name of Valentine that served in Rome during the third century. When the Emperor, Claudius the II decided that soldiers served better when single, he outlawed marriage for his potential soldiers. Valentine seeing the injustice continued performing marriages for young lovers in secret despite the decree. Once Valentine was found out, Claudius II ordered that he be put to death.

Another legend places Valentine in prison because he was helping Christians escape the Roman prisons because of the harsh treatment they endured while in confinement. While in prison, Valentine fell in love with a young girl that visited him during his confinement. Before his death, he allegedly wrote her a love letter in which he signed, “From Your Valentine”.

Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Most people tend to believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February due to Valentine's death or burial, but there are those that believe that the Christian church may have decided to “christianize” a pagan festival, Lupercalia.

February was the official beginning of spring and considered a time of purification in ancient Rome. The ritual spring cleaning of the houses by sweeping them out and sprinkling salt and spelt, a type of wheat, throughout. This was done in preparation of Lupercalia, which began at the ides of February. The festival began on February 15th in honor of Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture and the Roman founders, Romulus and Remus. To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.

The boys then sliced the goat's hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goathide strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D. The Roman 'lottery' system for romantic pairing was deemed un-Christian and outlawed. Later, during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of the bird mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of February -- Valentine's Day -- should be a day for romance. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

The first commercial Valentine's Day greeting cards produced in the U.S. were created in the 1840s by Esther A. Howland. Howland, known as the Mother of the Valentine, made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as "scrap".

Submitted on : 1-Jan-2006

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6

Top : Holidays : Valentines : The History of Valenitne's Day

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