St. Valentine’s Day is commonly referred to as Valentine’s Day. It is celebrated each Feb. 14, and is when lovers express their affection with greetings and gifts.
Valentine’s Day originated in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, and was held in mid-February. The Lupercalia is an ancient Roman festival that was conducted annually on Feb. 15 under the superintendence of a corporation of priests called Luperci. To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave. This is where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa.
The priests would sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. They would then cut or rip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take it to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year.
According to legend, later in the day, 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. At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius replaced Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day.
It came to be celebrated as a day of romance from about the 14th century. At the time, there were several Christian martyrs named Valentine. Many people believe the day had taken its name from a priest who was martyred about 270 CE by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus. According to the legend, the priest signed a letter “from your Valentine” to his jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended and by some accounts, healed from blindness.
Other accounts hold that it was St. Valentine of Terni, a bishop, for whom the holiday was named, though it is possible the two saints were actually one person.
Another common legend states that St. Valentine defied the emperor’s orders and secretly married couples to spare the husbands from war. It is for this reason that his feast day is associated with love.
Formal messages, or valentines, appeared in the 1500s, and by the late 1700s commercially printed cards were being used. In the United States, the first commercial valentine’s day cards were printed in the mid-1800s.
By the middle of the 18th Century, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the 1900s printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology.
Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.
Valentine’s Day can also commonly depict Cupid. Cupid has been portrayed on Valentine’s Day cards as a naked cherub launching arrows of love at unsuspecting lovers. However, the Roman God Cupid has his roots in Greek mythology as the Greek God of love, Eros. Accounts of his birth vary; some say he is the son of Nyx and Erebus; others, of Aphrodite and Ares; still some suggest he is the son of Iris and Zephyrus or even Aphrodite and Zeus [who would have been both his father and grandfather].
According to the Greek Archaic poets, Eros was a handsome immortal that played with the emotions of Gods and men. He used golden arrows to incite love and leaden ones to sow aversion. It wasn’t until the Hellenistic period that he was then portrayed as the mischievous, chubby child he’d become on Valentine’s Day cards.
Traditional gifts included candy and flowers. The flowers were particularly red roses, which is a symbol of beauty and love. Feb. 14 is most popular in the United States as well as in Britain, Canada, and Australia. It is also celebrated in other countries including Argentina, France, Mexico, and South Korea.
In the Philippines, it is the most common wedding anniversary. Hundreds of couples having wedding ceremonies is not uncommon on that date. The holiday has expanded to expressions of affection among relatives and friends. Many school children exchange valentines with one another on this day, as well as have small valentine’s day parties with their classmates.