The Story Behind Valentine's Day

Everybody celebrates Valentine’s Day, it is a beautiful occasion to spread and express love to beloved people near to each one, maybe to a partner or just to friends, as it is also known as “Day of Love and Friendship” in some Spanish countries.

Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine is the celebration of love and affection.

But, do people know about the story behind it?

We all know it is celebrated every February 14th around the world. But what more?

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So, who was Valentine?

There are three different saints recognized by the Catholic Church, whose names were Valentine or Valentinus and they all were martyred.

There is a legend that says that Valentine was a priest who served in Rome during the third century, when Emperor Claudius II realized that single men made better soldiers than men with wives and families; then, he decided to outlawed marriage for young men.

Valentine thought that decree was unfair, so he continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret, ignoring and defying Claudius. When the Emperor discovered Valentine’s actions, he ordered that he be put to death. Some people insist that it was Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop, who was the true namesake of the holiday. He also was beheaded by Claudius II outside Rome.

According to some legends, Valentine could have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, place where they were frequently beaten and tortured.

One story suggests that an imprisoned Valentine was actually the first one to send a “valentine” greeting after falling in love with a young girl (who may have been his jailor’s daughter) who visited him during his confinement. It is said, before his death, that he wrote a letter to her, signed “From your Valentine”, a very popular expression which is still used by lovers at these modern days.

Even though the truth behind the Valentine legend can be murky, each one of these stories emphasizes his figure as a heroic and (very important) romantic person. Due to his reputation, Valentine has become one of the most popular and loved saints in the world.

What about the day itself?

As it is known, Valentine’s Day is a pagan festival celebrated in the middle of February, the second month of the year.

Some people believe it commemorates the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial (but it probably happened around A.D. 270), some others think that the Christian church could have decided to place it in the middle of February to try to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, which was a fertility festival they used to dedicate to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus, and also to Romulus and Remus, the Roman founders.

In other words, it was an ancient Roman ritual that welcomed spring.

How was the ritual?

To give the festival the beginning, members of the Luperci (an order of Roman priests) used to gather at a sacred cave where the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were believed to have been cared for by a shewolf or lupa.

The priests used to sacrifice a goat for fertility, and a dog for purification.

Then, they would strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. It wasn’t a fearful act; actually, Roman women gave welcome to the touch of the hides because they believed it could make them more fertile in the next year.

According to stories, after it in that day all young women in the city used to place their names in a big urn. Then, the city’s bachelors could choose a name and become paired for the year with the woman he chose, and these matches used to end in marriage, mostly.

Lupercalia was deemed “un-Christian”, so it was outlawed at the end of the 5th century, after Pope Gelasius declared February 14th Saint Valentine’s Day.

It did not take too much to that day to become associated with love definitively.

In France and England it was commonly believed that February 14th was the beginning of birds´ mating season during the Middle Ages. This was added to the thought that the middle of Valentine’s Day should definitely be a day for romance.

Valentine’s greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, but written Valentine’s did not begin to appear until after 1400.

A poem written in 1415 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, is still the oldest known valentine in existence today.

This greeting is currently a part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.

How is it celebrated now?

These modern days, people still celebrates Saint Valentine as a day to give and receive love to and from beloved ones. There are a lot of common ways to show and express love, from sending greeting cards, buying gifts and writing letters to dating, going out to dinner and making special plans in couple or in group of friends.

There is an entire world of things to give and plans to share in order to celebrate this holiday, as it is a special date in all countries around the world, where it is typical for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection like handwritten notes or printed cards.

It is a very popular tradition to give flowers (especially red roses) and chocolate, to have a romantic meal in a restaurant or night in a hotel. People also like to give all kind of hearts.

It always depends on the person, the couple or the groups of friends how to celebrate and spend the day.

While most countries celebrate with traditional present giving and time with Valentines, people all over the world celebrate it in other ways as well.  There are also those who prepare special dinners with personalized plastic plates that are shaped in allusive ways representing love or have special love messages as a special gift for their partner or best friend.

For example, Jack Valentine is a folk character in Norfolk who leaves presents on doorsteps for children.

How do you celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day?