Approximately 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, making Valentine’s Day the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas.
People all over the world exchange flowers, candy, and gifts among other things with their loved ones on the 14th of February in the name of Valentine’s Day. But did you know that the name Valentine is actually drawn from a saint? Yes, you got that right. This mysterious saint is St. Valentine. Who is he? Where did these traditions originate from? Today we teach you the history of this century-long holiday that has its roots in the Roman rituals.
St. Valentine Legend
Many celebrate the 14th of Feb but little do they know about the story of the patron saint. The month of love is one that integrates beliefs of both the Christian and ancient Roman tradition.
There are at least three different martyred saints with the name Valentine or Valentinus recognized by the Catholic Church. There is one legend suggesting that Valentine was in fact a priest in the third century Rome. One Emperor Claudius II arrived at the conclusion that single men were best placed to serve as soldiers as opposed to the married men, effectively implementing his assumptions. But Valentine did not agree with this injustice and thus opposed it. His actions were later on discovered and an order was signed for him to be hanged.
There are other legends which tell of a situation where Valentine was killed due to the help he extended to Christians oppressed by the Romans. In one such legend, Valentine personally sent a “valentine” greeting after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. The legend suggests that Valentine sent the letter with the signing “From your Valentine,” an expression that many are accustomed to up to this day.
As much as stories revolving around Valentine’s Day are all murky, they all have the message of sympathy, heroism and most importantly – romance.
Is Valentine’s Day a Pagan Celebration?
But whereas many are of the opinion that the central position of Valentine’s Day in February is meant to be an anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial, there are some stories which suggest that the Christian Church chose the mid-month day so as to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia.
Lupercalia was a fertility festival celebrated on 15th February as a tribute to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture.
The celebration involved members of the Luperci gathering in a sacred cave. Some priests would then slaughter a goat as a show of purification. The goats’ skin would then be taken off, dipped in blood and then slapped on the women and crop fields. Roman women were more than ready to receive the slap as they believed that it made them fertile.
Lupercalia was able to withstand the growing Christianity but towards the 5th Century, it was outlawed after Pope Gelasius deemed it to be “un-Christian” and declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. In France and England, Feb 14 was considered to be the start of the bird’s mating season.