BY EMILY LUCIA
Every year on February 14th, lovers and friends rush to buy cards, chocolates, roses, and other commercial items to commemorate their love for one another. Many people know that Valentine’s Day is a Christian holiday, a day that would honor the life of St. Valentine. But do you know the history of the Saint from which this day takes its name? Or how about the ancient Roman customs that have inspired the celebration of the holiday we know today? Let us take a look back into history.
According to an article written for The History Channel, there were actually several St. Valentines from whom the holiday could have taken its name from, all of which were martyrs (people who sacrificed their lives for their beliefs). One was a priest in third century Rome who stood up against Emperor Claudius II of Rome. Under Claudius II young men under a certain age were not permitted to marry their sweet hearts. So a priest by the name of Valentine (or even Valentinus, it’s not totally clear), continued to perform marriages for young couples until he was caught by Claudius II, who ordered the priest’s death.
Another legend dictates that Valentine aided Christians as they escaped Roman prisons (keep in mind this was during the time of Christian persecution). This Valentine was reportedly imprisoned and supposedly sent the first Valentine card to a young woman with whom he fell in love. Coincidentally, this was also during the reign of Claudius II. Old Claudius put both of these men to death on–guess which day? That’s right February 14th.
Once these men were canonized or declared as Saints by the Catholic Church, the 14th of February was dedicated to commemorate their lives.
Now, what’s a Christian holiday without Pagan roots? In ancient Rome, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. According to Arnie Siepel for National Public Radio (NPR), this feast lasted for three days starting February 13 to 15. During the feast the men would sacrifice a goat and a dog, and would then whip women with the animal hides.
Historian Noel Lenski states that “young women would actually line up for the men to hit them. They believed this would make them fertile.”
Additionally, our dear friends the Romans would put the names of young women into a jar for the men to draw from, as a sort of match making ceremony. Then they would or wouldn’t fall in love.
As the years went on and Christianity spread, Lupercalia was eventually outlawed at the end of the 5th century and Pope Gelasius deemed February 14th St. Valentine’s Day. In the
Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance, poets like Shakespeare began to romanticize the holiday. Eventually, people began to hand out cards to express their love for their friends, family, and lovers. In 1913 Hallmark, yes the greeting card company, mass-produced these cards and ever since then, we have had the day we all celebrate, Valentine’s Day!