Origins of ordinary things: Valentine’s Day

Tomorrow is February 14, which means that a number of people across the world will go out of their way to express affection towards their loved ones. Some will send flowers, others will exchange gifts, and others will go on dates. This is how people celebrate Valentine’s Day—the day of love and romance.

Valentine’s Day has been in existence for centuries and is named after St. Valentine, a third century Roman Catholic priest. According to History a knowledge resource, during the third century, marriage was outlawed because of Roman Emperor Claudius II’s decision that single men made better soldiers. Defying the emperor’s orders, St. Valentine continued to perform marriage ceremonies for young couples in secret until he was caught and jailed.

During his confinement, St. Valentine is said to have restored sight to the prison warden’s blind daughter. The story goes on to say that before he was executed in 269, St. Valentine wrote to the newly sighted girl that he had later befriended a farewell letter which was signed “Your Valentine.” This is according to Wikipedia, an encyclopaedia.

However, Smithonian Magazine says that the celebration of Valentine’s Day itself may have less to do with the saint and more to do with the effort by early Christians to ban and replace Lupercalia, a pagan holiday to honour Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture.

During the celebration of Lupercalia, names of girls would be placed in a box to be drawn out by the opposite sex. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, this would result in the start of a relationship and sometimes, eventually lead to marriage.

The ban on Lupercalia was achieved during the 5th Century, in 496 A.D to be specific, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as Valentine’s Day since it is the day St. Valentine was killed.

According to Britannica, an encyclopaedia, the connection between Valentine’s Day and romance only happened when it was popularised in Europe during the Renaissance period of the 14th Century. The belief was the birds paired off for mating in February. With that in mind, people would send love notes to each other during that season.

As with many other commemorations, the day was eventually commercialised and mass production of cards began, complemented by chocolates, flowers and other condiments to make the day special. 

In 1969, Pope Paul VI removed 14 February as the day for honouring St. Valentine from the Catholic Church’s calendar. This is according to the Bible Study site. By this time, it had become a secular love celebration even though it was largely associated with the saint.

Valentine’s Day today is symbolised by a heart shape, doves and Cupid— the Roman god of love— desire, attraction and affection.



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