11 February, 2011

Everything you wanted to know about Valentine's day. Part1

Here is part one of the article I wrote a couple of years ago about Valentine's day

Origins of Valentine Day
The story of Saint Valentine day is as mysterious as love itself. There are several versions about who Saint Valentine was but one fact is sure: the roots of the holiday bring us all the way to ancient Rome. In that time, Romans celebrated the 14th of February in honour of Juno. Juno was not only the Queen of Roman Gods and Goddesses; she was also the goddess of Women and Marriage.

The following day, the 15th of February, Romans would participate in the Feast of Lupercalia - a festival celebrating Faunus and Lupercus. Faunus was the God of agriculture and Lupercus was the God of shepherds. Lupercalia also honoured Lupa, the she-wolf that raised Romulus and Remus - founders of Rome. The festivities dedicated to these important gods lasted a whole week and involved a lot of rituals and games. One of these games still exists to this day and is often played on Valentine’s Day. In ancient Rome, unwed girls and boys were usually raised separately. On the first day of the festival, all the unwed girls would write their names on pieces of paper and place them in a jar. Young boys would draw a name and the two would become a couple for the whole week of festivities. Very often the two would stay together after the holidays and the game of chance would lead to marriage.

Rome was also the homeland of Saint Valentine, or at least to one of them. The Catholic Church recognizes at least 3 saints with the name “Valentine”. One of them was a priest in the third century - a time when emperor Claudius II was ruling Rome. Rome at that time was a conquering state, attacking neighboring countries and fighting wars. Claudius II believed that single men made better soldiers than those tied up by family and children. To create a stronger and bigger army, the emperor forbade young men to marry. One priest, Valentine, found this law unfair and continued wedding couples in secret. When the secret was discovered, emperor Claudis II sent Valentine to jail and he was later martyred.

According to another legend, while being in prison, Valentine fell in love with the daughter of the jailer. The poor girl was blind, but with the help of Valentine’s prayers, love, and maybe medicine (Valentine was also rumored to be a physician) she regained sight. Before his execution, on February the 14th, Valentine wrote a farewell note to his beloved, signing it “From your Valentine“. The expression is still popular and lovers use it in their valentine love messages. It is also possible that Valentine’s note lead to the custom of sending little gifts, candies, and other tokens of love and affection on this day.

February the fourteenth was declared Saint Valentine’s day around 490 AD by Pope Gelasius. The day would not only commemorate the deeds of Valentine, but also “Christianize” the celebrations of the pagan festival Lupercalia.

Another explanation for February the 14th is that it coincides with the beginning of the birds’ mating season. In the Middle Ages, people in France and England believed that birds would start their mating games in the middle of February. This imparted a more romantic notion to Valentine’s Day.

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