The Origins of Valentine’s Day
St Valentine’s Day has its origins in a number of different legends that have been passed down to us through the ages. One of the earliest popular symbols of Valentine’s Day is Cupid, the Roman god of love, represented by a young boy with a bow and arrow.
One of the first mentions of ‘Valentine’ was in Ancient Roman times when everyone was expected to worship the many Roman Gods. Valentine, a Christian priest, was thrown into prison because of his beliefs. On February 14th he was put to death, not only for his Christianity, but because he was said to perform a miracle by enabling the blind jailor’s daughter to see again. The night before he was executed, he wrote the girl a farewell letter, signing it “From Your Valentine.”
The other Valentine known to the Romans lived, and died, during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius believed he was having trouble recruiting young men into his army because they did not want to leave their wives and sweethearts. Accordingly, he cancelled all engagements and marriages throughout Rome. Saint Valentine, a priest of Rome at the time, continued to marry couples in secret. He was eventually caught and executed on February 14th. It sounds like it was a popular day for execution in Rome.
On a brighter note in Ancient Rome, February 14th was a holiday in honour of Juno, Queen of the Gods, and Goddess of women and marriage. The Feast of Lupercalia was held on the next day. The lives of young boys and girls were strictly separate. However, one of the customs held on the eve of the festival of Lupercalia was for boys to draw a girl’s name placed in a jar to be their partners for the duration of the festival. Sometimes the couple remained together for the whole year and even fell in love and married.
In AD 496 Saint Pope Gelasius I declared February 14 as “Valentine’s Day”. Although it has never been an official holiday (more’s the pity.) The date was marked by sending poems and simple gifts such as flowers, and there was often a social gathering or a ball.
Valentine’s Day gained in popularity during the Middle Ages when lovers either spoke or sang of their feelings. Written Valentine’s became popular at the end of the 15th Century. The first handmade Valentine cards appeared in the 16th century but by the early 20th century even elaborate cards with lace and ribbon were created by machine.
Many traditions are linked to Valentine’s Day. As examples, in the Middle Ages young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their Valentine would be, while in Wales Love Spoons were carved and given as gifts. Another game involved thinking of five or six names of boys or girls you would like to marry. The player had to twist the stem of an apple while reciting the names until the stem fell off! The idea was that the name being recited when this happened would be the one the player would marry. I suppose the solution was to give an almighty twist when reciting your favourite’s name…
However you spend Valentine’s Day, let it be with someone you love!