Have You Ever Wondered Where The
Valentines Day Tradition Started?
Valentine's Day cards are exchanged between friends and lovers. In school students draw names to exchange gifts or just pass Valentines to classmates. Men usually present gifts of candy and flowers to their Sweethearts. Many couples today make a treat of Dark Chocolate and a fine Merlot Wine in the privacy of their Valentine's Day evening!
Some authorities trace the origin of this Tradition to the Roman feast called Lupercalis celebrated on February 15th to ensure protection from wolves. The celebration involved young men striking people with whips. Young women endured the blows because they believed this would enhance their fertility1,2.
Cupid was the ancient Roman god of love and according to myth was the son of Mercury, winged messenger of the gods, and Venus, goddess of love. He was also the counterpart of the Greek god Eros. He is usually portrayed as a winged infant with a quiver of arrows and a bow. His wounds are said to inspire love or passion in those who are struck 3.
In the third century A.D. there were: two Roman Martyrs beheaded on February 14th named St. Valentine, and a third St. Valentine who suffered and died on February 14th in Africa recognized by The Catholic Church4.
Tradition has it that one of the Roman Martyrs was a Priest who was imprisoned because he married young couples in love against the orders of the Roman Emperor Claudius II who forbad young men to marry. While in prison the young Priest fell in love with a young girl, who might have been his jailor's daughter. Some believe before his death he wrote a love note to her signing it "From your Valentine"5.
Another story talks of a Christian man named Valentine who was kind to children and imprisoned for not worshiping Roman gods. While he was in prison, the children tossed loving notes to him between the bars of his cell window1.
In A.D. 496 Saint Pope Gelasius I outlawed the pagan festival Lupercalis and named February 14th as St. Valentine's Day. Many believe this was to replace the pagan god Lupercus with a morally suitable "Lovers" Saint.6
St. Valentine's Day as a Lover's Festival probably came into widespread practice around 1400 A.D. 3 Some historians attribute the custom of sending verses on Valentine's Day to a Frenchman named Charles, Duke of Orleans. He was captured by the British in 1415 at the Battle of Agincourt. In an English prison it is said he sent verses to his wife on Valentine's Day1.
English women in the 1700's wrote the names of men on a piece of paper and dropped them into the water. The first paper to rise to the surface was to be their one true love. Also in the 1700's single English women would pin 5 bay leaves to their pillow to inspire dreams of their future lovers1.
One description in the 1700's depicts groups of friends drawing names from a jar. Gifts were given to the names drawn and for several days the men wore the name of their Valentine on their sleeve. The saying, "wearing his heart on his sleeve" probably came from this custom1. The sending of Valentine cards became very popular in the 1800's and has continued to this day.
Over time the traditions associated with the Roman Festival Lupercalis, the mythology associated with Cupid and the Folklore associated with St. Valentine have all combined with customs of gift-giving and the exchanging of cards to our modern day St. Valentine's Day!
Bain, Carol. The World Book™ Multimedia Encyclopedia © 1998 World Book, Inc.
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