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February 14, 2011

The origins of St Valentine's Day

14 February 2011

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I thought I would do some research on the beginnings of this tradition that has us consumed with romance for an entire day!

The real origins of the celebration seem to be a contested subject.

While some believe the February 14 was a festival to honour Juno, the queen of the Roman gods and goddesses, in ancient Rome, many say it was dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera. The celebration is also connected to the Feast of Lupercalia, which was an ancient rite connected to fertility.

As part of the Feast of Lupercalia, girls would write their names on pieces of paper on the evening before the festival and place these pieces of paper in a jar like the lost lover's bottle sent out to sea. The boys would pull a name from a jar and throughout the festival the pair would celebrate together. Their relationship would sometimes blossom and result in marriage.

Another legend says Emperor Claudius was struggling to get men to join the army, and he decided the reason men weren't excited about warring was because they would rather be with their wives and sweethearts. As a result, he cancelled engagements and marriages throughout the empire. Rebel St Valentine apparently performed secret marriages, but he was eventually uncovered and lost his head on February 14.

Yet another legend says Valentine was really trying to persuade Claudius to be Christian and was executed for his attempt.

There were many early Christian martyrs by the name of Valentine as well, so it's difficult to set one aside as the true origin for the tradition.

Greetings for Valentine's Day became popular in the Middle Ages, with lovers singing their sentiments, but paper greetings only became popular in the 15th Century. The first official recording of Valentine's Day can be seen in Geoffrey Chauce's love vision "Parliament of Fowles", which is really a loverly poem. :) Read it when you have a chance.

Now, this tradition has evolved into a full-out buy-your-loved-one-a-gift-to-prove-you-love-them event. Even in primary school it was a big thing for us! I remember in second grade these two boys had cut out dozens of hearts out of paper for me - all in different sizes - they threw them all in my school case and I remember pulling hearts out of my cupboard and sock drawer for weeks afterward.

Do you remember your first Valentine?