Did you know Valentine’s Day has an ancient and exceptionally fascinating history? From ancient Roman traditions to martyred saints, we have no shortage of myths and tales to talk about.
These days, however, Valentine’s Day takes on a whole new form, with close to $20.7 billion spent in 2019. This money is all spent on showing the people in your life that you care.
Gifting someone you love on Valentine’s Day is a great way to affirm your relationship with them, but where did these traditions actually start? How did we go from Saint Valentine and his tragic demise to heart-shaped candy and flowers?
Keep reading to get the full scoop on the delicious history of Valentine’s Day and all the important people associated with it.
Who Was Saint Valentine?
Valentine of Terni, a young priest, was the most important person linked with this saga, despite the Catholic Church formally recognizing three different saints by the name of Valentine.
He served in Rome during the 3rd century when Emperor Claudius II ruled. It was at this point that the Emperor decided unmarried men made for better soldiers, so he outlawed marriage for young men.
Valentine saw how unjust this was and continued to perform secret ceremonies for young men and women who wanted to get married. Unfortunately, his actions were discovered and Cladius insisted he be punished.
During his imprisonment, they say he fell in love with a young woman who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, he allegedly wrote her a letter signed, “from your Valentine,” which is an expression we still use today.
Although it is difficult to separate fact from fiction in these ancient stories, one thing we know for certain is that Valentine became synonymous with the expression of love and loyalty.
Understanding the History of Valentine’s Day
While some people believe that the reason we celebrate Valentine’s Day on the 14th is because it was the day Saint Valentine died, others claim it was actually an attempt to Christianize the Roman celebration of Lupercalia.
What Was Lupercalia?
Lupercalia celebrated the ‘ides’ of February in ancient Rome. It was a festival of fertility dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus. Some even speculate that it was a dedication to the Roman founders, Romulus and Remus.
On this day, in addition to traditions that honored nature and fertility, all the city’s bachelors would choose the name of a young woman with whom they would spend the next year. Many of these beautiful couples ended up getting married and thus the event became associated with love.
After the initial rise of Christianity, Lupercalia survived with most of its traditions intact. However, it was outlawed at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared that February 14th would officially be known as St. Valentine’s Day.
How the Poets Changed the Game
Poets and writers have a particular way of romanticizing something, and St. Valentine’s Day was no exception. Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to write about Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love and romance in his poem, “Parliament of Foules,” which he wrote in 1375.
The oldest known valentine still in existence was a poem written by the Duke of Orleans, sent to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. This poem dates all the way back to 1415!
However, it is not only saints and poets who have become synonymous with Valentine’s Day.
Arrows of Love
The concept of a small angel shooting arrows at unsuspecting passersby is an ancient myth, albeit a strange one when you think about it. We know this myth, and the creature, as Cupid.
We often depict Cupid as a naked cherub, but he has his origins in Greek mythology as Eros, the Greek god of love.
Eros was a handsome immortal who, according to the Greek Archaic poets, toyed with the emotions of gods and men. He used golden arrows to incite love and lead arrows to sow hate. He wasn’t associated with the playful, chubby boy we see on cards until the Hellenistic period.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day
In modern times, Valentine’s Day is celebrated all over the world and there are traditions aplenty. For example, the French turn the village called Valentine into an epicenter of romance, with trees and homes decorated with cards and roses.
And honestly, nothing says “I love you” more than red roses, which symbolize passion, desire, and romance. Cards are also a popular way of expressing feelings in a way that remains present and eternal, and as things go, they’re one of the best Valentine’s Day gifts you can give.
Women are the most avid buyers of Valentine’s Day cards, and that’s not just to give to their friends. Plenty of people have a man in their life they want to show a little love for, and that’s where Valentine’s Day messages for him can really go the distance.
You can also plan a romantic date and spend quality time with the people you love or spend the day on self-care and bubble baths. There are plenty of ways to go about celebrating love and Valentine’s Day, all of which can make you and your loved ones feel special.
To My Valentine
Whether you’re planning an extravagant and romantic date or sharing some chocolates, remember that the history of Valentine’s Day stems from deep and eternal love. It is this that we must always keep alive.
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