Valentines Day

The history and mystery of Valentines Day is uncovered


Ah! The month of love, or amor as people in Goa like to say, is here. And with it comes the 14th of February, better known as Valentines Day. It’s a day when a lot of people decide to be mushy and romantic with significant others. They give them chocolates, hearts, flowers, romance and the works with all things love-related. But what do we really know about Valentines Day? Or about St Valentine for whom the day is named after?

St Valentine: Who was he?

St Valentine was a man that will always be shrouded in mystery. There are, of course, different legends that tell the tale of who he was. One legend says that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When the then Roman ruler, Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers and outlawed marriage. However, Valentine felt this decree was a complete injustice to young couples and defied the emperor by continuing to wed them in secret. Emperor Claudius II found out and ordered his death.

Another story says that Valentine may have been imprisoned himself and may have actually sent the first “valentine” greeting to a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter– who he was in love with while she visited him during his confinement. Before his death, h allegedly wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is used by a lot of people today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Valentines Day: A day of love…???

Nowadays, everyone celebrates Valentines Day as a day of absolute romance. However, it’s origins don’t seem to be as sweet. Valentines Day may just have its beginning in the pagan festival of ‘Lupercalia’ in an attempt to “Christianize” the same.

Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture and the Roman founders, Romulus and Remus. It was celebrated around the middle of February, around the 14th or 15th of the month.

Members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, Rome’s founders, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or ‘lupa‘. These priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets. Young women in the neighbourhoods would be slapped gently with this goat hide. But far from scaring them, the women were quite happy to be touched by the goat hide as they believed that it would make them more fertile.

Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

Lupercalia did survive the initial ride of Christianity. However, by the end of the 5th century, it was declared “un-Christian” and was outlawed by Pope Gelasius. Following which, 14th February was declared as Valentines Day.

Valentines Day becomes a day of love and celebration

According to history, some scholars believe that medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer first established romance at the center of this tradition. His “dream vision poem,” The Parliament of Fowls, with its reference to Valentine’s Day as the occasion when a collection of birds gather to choose their mates in a “wonderful drama observed by the poet/narrator,” introduced courtship into the equation. Following this, other great people of the times also contributed in their own way, turning Valentines Day into a day to be celebrated.

Valentines Day greetings have been around since the 1400s. Today, the day is celebrated all around the world. People exchange all kinds of greetings, cards (some are handwritten) and all kinds of gifts to commemorate the day. A lot of couples even get engaged on Valentines Day. The greeting card maker giant Hallmark produced its first Valentine’s card in 1913, adding a dash of convenience to the sacred day of love. Ever since purchasing gifts for loved ones has been synonymous with Valentine’s Day. The Greeting Card Association estimates that 145 million cards are sent around the world every year.