When you think of Valentine's Day you probably think of hearts, flowers, candy, people you love, cherubs and other symbols related to the holiday. However, have you ever wondered who Valentine really was?
Although there are varying beliefs of how the holiday started, the one of most popular theories is that it originated back as far as February 14, 269 A.D., the day a Roman priest was martyred for love.
Because Emperor Claudius II believed that young men made better soldiers if they were unattached, he outlawed marriage for them. Father Valentine, believing the law was unjust and cruel, continued to secretly perform marriages. When Claudius learned of Valentine's defiance, he had him jailed and threatened him with death. But Valentine would not be dissuaded.
To add to the lore, legend says that during his incarceration Valentine himself fell in love with a young girl who visited him daily. The girl was believed to be the jailer's daughter. This enraged the warden who urged Claudius to have Valentine killed. But Valentine was even more determined that love should win out and refused. Claudius ordered him to be put to death.
It is said the priest himself sent the first Valentine's letter when he wrote a farewell note to the jailer's daughter and signed it, "From Your Valentine," a common signature even today.
The colors of the holiday are also thought to be a testament to Valentine. The red represents his spilled heart's blood, while the white is the purity of his love.
In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as the day to honor St. Valentine and it would be thereafter known as the patron saint of lovers.
But there is another popular theory for why he chose February 14th as the day to symbolize love and it had to do with ending a long-standing pagan practice.
In ancient Rome, February 14th was a holiday to venerate Juno, queen of the Roman gods and goddesses and also was the queen of love and marriage. The 15th began the Feast of Lupercalia (festival of the wolf).
For eight hundred years, this day began a young man's rite of passage with a celebration to honor the god Lupercus.
On that day, young men and women entered their names in a lottery. The boys would draw the name of a girl, and for the next year, this maiden was thought to be his sexual companion. Generally they would fall in love and marry.
Pope Gelasius, wishing to do away with this ritual, ordered a change in the lottery. Instead of selecting the names of young women, participants would draw the name of a saint. During the following year, these people would endeavor to emulate the practices of that saint. Not surprisingly, this was not a popular change.
Many men sought to choose Valentine as the saint they wished to emulate and wrote admiring letters and poems to a young woman they wished to woo.
The traditions of the original lottery were somewhat revived during the Middle Ages when young knights and women's names were put into a box and then drawn out in pairs and they would be declared a couple for that year. The woman would give her soldier in steel a piece of fabric, from one of her garments, which he would tie to his arm as he did battle or played in games of chivalry. Hence the expression, "he wore his heart on his sleeve."
Cupid also dates back to pagan beliefs. As the son of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, his baby-like countenance is still associated with the holiday.
Over time the holiday evolved. The commercialization of February 14th came hundreds of years later, but no matter the true origins of the celebration or how you commemorate it, Valentine's Day is still the day to remember the ones you love.
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