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The Origin of Valentine's Day

A Day of Love and Romance

Esther Tuttle @ entradaphotography

I love history almost as much as I love the paranormal. I love learning about the origins of the holidays we celebrate. To understand the "whys." We celebrate specific days of the year without always knowing why we are celebrating them. The origins of those days becoming ingrained in our everyday lives got lost somewhere in the annals of time.

Valentine’s Day is one of those days. Every February 14, we celebrate the day of love with cards, candy, flowers, and even marriage proposals, honoring the mysterious Saint Valentine whom the day was named after. However, does anyone remember who Saint Valentine is or why we celebrate this day in his honor?

Well, being a lover of history, I did a little research to find out and learned that Valentine’s Day has it roots in both Christian and Pagan myths.

The Christian version is about a priest in ancient Rome named Valentine. Emperor Claudius II noticed that his soldiers were getting more and more dissatisfied with leaving their families and loved ones to go to war.

He was busy expanding his empire and needed his soldiers to conquer his future territories, but they didn’t want to fight. Claudius II had this nifty idea that he would outlaw marriage, thinking if his soldiers couldn’t marry, then they would have no reason to stay home.

One Catholic priest Valentine was marrying his soldiers in secret, but eventually, Valentine was found out and sentenced to die. The daughter of his prison guard would pass little notes to Valentine to keep his spirits up. Others he’d married also gave him notes and little gifts to show their support—the start of the written Valentine.

Valentine supposedly lived around 270 A.D. and February 14 was the day he was put to death. Other historians believed that the Christians chose that day to try to Christianize the pagan festival of Lupercalia. Lupercalia is a fertility festival celebrated on February 15 that was dedicated to Fauna, the Roman god of Agriculture. Also, on February 15, the twins Romulus and Remus's day of birth was celebrated being they were the founders of Rome.

The festival began with members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests going to the sacred cave where Romulus and Remus were raised by a she-wolf. The priests would sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. The priest would then cut the hide off the goat into strips, then take those strips of hide and dip them into the goat’s blood. Afterwards, the priests would take those strips out to the streets and gently slap women and crops with the hide strips, in this way making both women and crops fertile.

The women would line the streets to be blessed by the priests with the hides dipped in blood. Later, single women would fill an urn with slips of papers with their names written on them to be drawn by the bachelors of the town. They would become a couple for a year and then be married after that year. It's very similar to the Scottish custom of a handfasting, which is a couple agree to live together for a year and a day before marrying.

Lupercalia managed to escape being erased by the Catholic church for a long time, but eventually those pious priests declared Lupercalia as “unchristian” by Pope Gelasius. Gelasius replaced the unchristian festival with Valentine’s Day towards the later part of the 5th century.

Valentine greetings existed as far back as the Middle Ages, but the birth of Valentine cards didn’t happen until after the 1400s. The oldest Valentine was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans in 1415, to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London after being captured at the battle of Agincourt.

It was even believed that England’s Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to write a Valentine card to Catherine of Valois.

Today, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Mexico, England, United States, Canada, France, and Australia. We might have forgotten why we celebrate this day, but the message of love and romance remains.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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