Valentines day history

Thursday 1st February, 2024

If you read my Guy Falkes night post, you'll know I love a good bit of bloody, messed up history and today I thought it'd be fun to ruin Valentine's Day for you all. Think of it as my way of showing my love. A gift that keeps on giving. Valentine's Day is an interesting holiday as there are many stories and ideas that surround who St. Valentine was, was he a real person or simply a romanticised myth? Let's have a look at a few of the stories that surround him.

One goes like this. Valentine was supposedly a man who took pity on Roman soldiers who were forbidden from marrying by their Emperor. Valentine had a soft spot for those who'd found themselves a partner, and the old romantic married them in secret. In some versions of this story, it was to prevent the men from having to go to war. Unable to go to war, their live were saved. The thanks he received? Execution.

There is another story with a similar plot. Valentine helped Christians who were persecuted by the Roman Empire, helping them escape prison and preventing their deaths. Eventually Valentine was caught and punished. You might be able to guess how this one ends too? Yep, he gets executed for his troubles.

My personal favourite is this one. Valentine, through what can only be assumed as divine intervention, healed the jailers blind daughter. Valentine was a captive in prison at the time. Over time, they fell in love. (Goodness knows how because that cannot have been a romantic setting.) On his way to being executed (there's a theme in these stories), he handed the jailers daughter a note that was signed 'Your Valentine' which is why we sign cards with 'your Valentine'. Call me a big ol' softie, but I love it. I am a true sucker for what feels like it could be the makings of a slightly more aggressive hallmark movie.

The main thing that we can all agree on, is there was likely to have been a man called Valentine who was excuted and there has been a few Catholic saints named Valentine. Yet, no one knows the true reason why.

There are other suggestions as to where Valentine's Day comes. Plus, they don't necessary include the man himself. Another vein of thought is that spring is a popular time for most animals and birds to get jiggy with it and pop out a number of offspring. The appearance of these mini me's serve as a reminder of the land's fertility. Think about that Disney movie, Bambi, when all the animals pair up and get twitterpated. There is an ancient pagan festival called Lupercalia that celebrated fertility which happened around the middle of February, which of course would be around the 14th. It marked spring and birds nesting with their eggs. It is potentially where the phrase 'lovebirds' comes from. Lupercalia included sacrificing a variety of animals and hitting women with goat hides, albeit gently (apparently they didn't mind), to increase fertility. Then the day was rounded off by pairing the young women and men together for a year in the hopes that that said year would end in marriage. It honestly sounds a bit like an ancient version of the 'married at first sight' tv programme and hey, who am I to judge, if it works, it works. Anyway, the point is that there was possibly an attempt to Christianise the festival by celebrating one of the Catholic saints, St. Valentine, instead. Apparently Pope Gelasius I forbid the celebrating of Lupercalia and so it makes sense that they'd create a holiday to replace it. Yet it wasn't until the 14th Century where Valentine's Day became about love and romance, so until then, it was just about reproduction of animals and crops. A little clinical, but it makes sense.

In all the legends and history surrounding this day, I find that I prefer the mystery. Yes there were a few Saint Valentines and yes spring and a fertility festival make sense. Maybe we're adding 2 and 2 and getting 6 and they're nothing but legend rooted in little bits of truth. Yet I think that the unknown is part of the romance to this holiday. We'll probably never know but it does add some zest to a romantic Valentine's Day dinner when you bring up execution.

Now, you probably thought the blog post was over but no. I have more. The gifts are influenced by these ancient festivals and stories too. These days flowers are given because they are pretty and there is a long standing tradition of giving flowers to the ones you love. They can represent all kinds of emotions; from love to loss, from thank you to sorry. Red roses are the symbol of love. Yet, the tradition for giving them on Valentine's Day is tied up with the ancient symbols of fertility. They represent the fertility of the soil and crops. I think it's probably best not to mention that bit of trivia on a first date though.

Don't worry, Chocolate is less concerning. Chocolate is given because of the physiological and emotional response it causes. The chemicals in chocolate can release endorphins or serotonin which led to the belief that chocolate is a love-producing food. In some cultures it has been considered a sacred food. The Mayans and Aztecs used it to make special drinks, believing it to be an aphrodisiac. The chocolate drinks would be saved for wedding days or special festivals.

These days, Valentine's Day has been taken over by the card companies and the retail industry as just another celebration to roll out after Christmas. Many people have become dissatisfied with it asking why do we need a holiday to prove love? It makes sense. Surely if we love someone we should be showing them all year round. Love isn't found in expensive gifts and cards. For some, the holiday brings painful emotions. For others, they don't want romantic love and that's fine. I completely understand why people would choose to ignore the holiday all together. Yet, for me, it isn't about showing love for one day a year, instead it reminds me that my husband and I have made it this far without killing each other (all you married people know what I'm talking about) and sometimes it just needs to be celebrated.

If you celebrate it, then I wish you a very happy Valentine's day. If you don't, well I hope I have given you some interesting topics to discuss over dinner. I hope you've learnt something. I leave you with this final bit of advice; whatever you do, don't go round hitting women with bits of goat skin.

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