If we were to play word association, starting with Valentine’s Day, we’d all come up with pretty similar answers. Now a day notorious for its commercial value, and with special thanks to social media, Valentine’s Day seems to have become an online battle of who has the best partner based on the picture-perfect backdrops, set ups and gifts from one's Valentine. #Aestheticsmatter.
February 14th falls upon us and suddenly it's as though the 364 other love-filled days of the year become irrelevant. The words ‘I love you’ are simply not enough. There must be candles, cards, chocolate and cuddly toys holding a mushy quote weaved into a love heart if you are to please your partner.
Possibly the most likely day to make or break a couple, I wanted to do some research and dive deeper into Valentine's Day and answer the big questions - who was the mysterious Saint, and where did these traditions come from?
It's probable that the association between mid-February and romance comes from the Pagan Festival of Lupercalia. This was a Festival which is thought to honour either Lupa, the she-wolf of Rome who suckled Romulus and Remus, or Faunus, their God of Fertility. Beginning with an animal sacrifice, the ritulistic slapping of young women with strips of the animals skin and blood would then take place. This act was believed to bestow fertility on the girls over the course of the next year. In the fifth century, most likely in an effort to Christianise the Pagan Festival, Pope Gelasius proclaimed February 14th as St Valentine's Day.
As for the real St Valentine, there were reportedly several. The most popular, however, is the story of Father Valentine, a recalcitrant Roman Priest, who lived during the 3rd century AD under the rule of Emperor Claudius II:
Claudius was an ambitious ruler. He expected his extensive armies of men to desert their young families for long periods of time. As a result, his military were half-hearted and homesick. Soon Claudius was so intent on stopping love from exhausting the will of his armies that he prohibited marriage all together. Father Valentine thought the ban bigoted and defied the Emperor by continuing to marry young lovers in secret. Eventually Claudius discovered the Priest's actions, arrested him and sentenced him to death.
According to the legend, the young couples whom he had secretly wed would visit him in his cell. They would pass him notes and flowers through the bars as symbols of their gratitude. The tale ends with the condemned Father Valentine falling in love with his jailer's daughter.
On February 14th, believed to be the day he was executed, he passed the young girl a note, signed 'From Your Valentine.'
Thus, a tradition was born.
So, albeit nice to recieve gifts and special treatment on this day, spare a thought today for Father Valentine. On his dying day he passed a handwritten note and simply declared himself 'Yours' to the young girl, and I think that's more sentimental than any box of chocolates.