Unless you’re single (or maybe even more so if you are), Valentine’s Day is the day to celebrate love (or long for it). And it’s the prescribed day to lavish your crush with chocolates, flowers and jewelry.
But how is it that one day became the all-important day of love? As with much of modern customs, Valentine’s Day links back to Roman times. According to History.com and pretty much common knowledge, “Valentine’s Day is named after Saint Valentine, a Catholic priest who lived in Rome in the 3rd Century. There are many stories about St Valentine and over time these stories grew into the legend we know today.”
But the context of that story is that at that time much of the Roman Empire still had strong ties to its pagan roots. Emperor Claudius II was a pagan and he believed that Roman soldiers should be completely devoted to Rome and therefore passed a law preventing them from marrying. St. Valentine (being quite the rebel) would marry these soldiers despite the laws against, which drew the ire of the Emperor. That meant jail for Valentine, until his execution on (you guessed it) Feb. 14, 270 a.d. While in jail he also cared for his jailor’s blind daughter, and sent her a “Valentine” before the execution, signed “from your Valentine.” One of his miracles to qualify for sainthood was healing said girl. That was the end of it for about 200 years until the then almost completely Christian Roman Empire began cracking down on paganism and in traditional Catholic fashion made the Feast of Lupercalia, held Feb. 13-15, and involving (according to “The Dark Origins Of Valentine’s Day”) sacrificing of a goat and public consensual thrashings of women to promote fertility. Oh and a love lottery paired the festival’s lucky couples. The Church sanitized this terribly romantic festival by making it a feast day. How Cupid (as in the god of desire, son of Roman goddess of love, Venus and Mars, god of war) became tangled up in Valentine’s Day is a bit unclear, but by the time of the Renaissance painters had changed the boy from a strapping nude young man to a cherub, which fits in well enough with all the hearts and ribbons.
Middle Ages poet Geoffrey Chaucer (of “Canterbury Tales” fame) tied the knot, if you will, between St. Valentine’s Day and romantic love. Courtly love involved a lot of professing secret love. Handmade cards began to appear with sentimental verse and accolades of the recipients’ beauty. Commercialism got into the business in 1913, when Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Mo., began mass producing valentines.
As for all the chocolates, what other confectionery can capture – to steal a line from Huey Lewis – the power of love.
Happy Valentine’s Day from the Manchester Times