As with Christmas, Valentine’s Day has an interesting history and a connection to things not so related to love, as one might think. In fact, the heart-and-flowers day we celebrate on February 14 has a dark side.
Just as many Christians want to associate the origin of “Christmas” with worshipping the baby Jesus, or honoring the day he was born, and yet still like to celebrate with the now-common trappings of Christmas — such as the Christmas tree and decorations, sprigs of holly, and of course, the replica creche (the manger holding the baby Jesus, complete with Mary and Joseph and the animals who were supposedly present) — so too do lovers want to associate the origin of Valentine’s Day with the expression of, or the honoring of, their love for each other. Sad to say, research into such origins will prove otherwise on both counts.
However, it is my contention that that was then, and this is now… meaning that it doesn’t matter how either holiday came to be; it is how we view them and celebrate them in today’s world that counts.
So whether or not the day was named after the two Christian priests (both named Valentine) executed by Roman Emperor Claudius II (Claudius the Cruel) on February 14 (but each in a different year… or could it have been the same Valentine, but it was just recorded in two different places by two different people?), their martyrdom in any case was honored by the Catholic Church by calling February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. (The first Valentine, of Rome, was said to be performing marriages illegally against the prohibition set by Claudius the Cruel, who outlawed marriage since he felt it was preventing young men from joining the military. He was stoned, clubbed and decapitated on February 14 in 269 A.D. It is said he fell in love with his jailer’s daughter, Julia, and left her a parting note signed “From your Valentine.” Some stories state that Julia was blind and he cured her blindness. The other Valentine, of Terni, championed the validity of Jesus, and is also associated with restoring the sight to a blind girl. But since at that time it was illegal to practice Christianity in Rome, Claudius had him arrested. While in custody he tried to convert Claudius to Christianity, which was his undoing.
The Romans had many strange traditions regarding matchmaking, or the rituals of getting men and women together. There was the feast of Lupercalia, celebrated — surprisingly — from February 13 to February 15, in which men sacrificed two male goats and a dog, then whipped women with the thongs they had made from the hides of the animals they had just slain. (How romantic is that?)
In describing these “Roman romantics,” some historians would say the men who attended that Lupercalian festival were often naked and drunk — and yet young women would line up for those “young male romantics” to hit them, believing that would make them fertile. (If one didn’t then get pregnant, perhaps it was because the man wasn’t drunk enough!)
But rather than leave such a thing as getting pregnant to the mythical fates, they would include a matchmaking lottery along with the ritual “hittings,” in which the young men would draw slips of paper from a jar, on which the names of the women present were written. The man would then be coupled up with the woman whose name he drew, and they would “be together” for the duration of the festival. How they spent that time together cannot be proven, but apparently the “hitting” or whipping tradition worked, since many of the women did get pregnant. (Surprise!)
Around the 5th century A.D. in Rome, such pagan rituals were outlawed, but Pope Gelasius, wanting to honor the memory and martyrdom of Valentine (or the two Valentine’s), officially established “Valentine’s Day.” Then, as such overlappings of history often happen, the Normans also had a day they celebrated around that time, called Galatin’s Day, which celebrated the love of women. And to further the confusion of which is which, and how it all came to be, the “G” in Galatin is pronounced “V” in English. So in the end, just as Christmas grew out of its pagan roots and later Christian sculpting, so too did February 14 involve a mashup of Lupercalia, Galatin’s Day, and the day to honor one or two Valentines who were executed on that same day.
But be that as it may, the Valentine’s Day tradition associated with love over fertility or pregnancy, eventually found its way to the New World. Words of love from the pens of both Chaucer and Shakespeare, to name just two, found their way into handmade paper cards, the popularity of which eventually ushered in the age of factory-made cards in the 19th century. The Hallmark card company got on the love bandwagon in 1913, and sending Valentine cards to the one you loved or wished would love you got to be a common and expected activity among lovers.
In today’s world, statistics show that Valentine card-giving or sending is second only to the giving or sending of Christmas cards.
But over the years, surprisingly enough, the person most likely to receive a Valentine card is a teacher. (Of course, one teacher generally has many students, while any given lover usually has only
But just as we do with Christmas, we can all make Valentine’s Day into what we want it to be; we do not have to subscribe to buying the expensive long-stemmed red roses, jacked up in price just for that one day, or the jumbo red satin-covered heart-shaped box of chocolates, sure to both please and plump up any valentine. We can acknowledge our love — or even just our admiration for the person that makes our heart skip a beat — by a sincere smile, a few well-chosen words that can light up their face more than two dozen roses or 10 pounds of chocolate; but most of all, we can show our love or goodwill feelings of the heart to others all year long.
Valentine’s Day is not just for lovers… it’s for loving and showing it any way we choose… that’s why we can still celebrate Valentine’s Day without giving in to the commercial purveyors of “how to show your love.”
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.