February is full of mixed emotions for a lot of people, happiness, joy, romance, indifference and even bitterness. There is nothing wrong with the month itself but rather, the associations and ideas that surround it. To be specific, Valentine’s Day.
Every year we dedicate one day to endless amounts of chocolates, flowers and stuffed animals that seem to get bigger as time goes on.
I remember that even just a few years ago when i was in high school, i would be amazed with how many gigantic stuffed teddy bears I would see in the hallways. Of course, we are talking about a different setting than say, what your average joe goes through today, but, back then there seemed to be an undeclared competition on who had the biggest box of chocolates, bouquet of flowers, or stuffed animal. In some instances it was a bit over the top, as if it was all about making a statement instead of a cute gesture of love and affection.
However, when you step out of that high school bubble and into the real world, I believe that the effects of Valentine’s Day are a lot more subdued. Sure, we still see the mass advertising, and the social media posts, which in turn may or may not make others without a significant other feel miserable. Hence, the bitterness and negative feeling surrounding Valentine’s Day that I mentioned before.
But, I wonder, how did Valentine’s Day come to be in the first place and then transition to the day that it is today?
Interestingly, the history of Valentine’s Day is somewhat shrouded in mystery. The holiday is named after its patron, St Valentine but as to who was he, where did our traditions come from?
The Catholic Church recognizes that there are at least three saints named Valentine or Valentinus. One legend recounts that St Valentine was a priest that served during the 3rd century in Rome and when Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, Valentine acted against this injustice and continued to marry young couples until he was discovered and sentenced to death.
Other stories suggest that Valentine was killed while helping Christians escape harsh Roman prisons. According to legend, an imprisoned Valentine sent out the first “Valentine’s Card” after he fell in love with a young girl, presumably the jailer’s daughter. Before his death, he allegedly wrote her a letter in which he signed “From, your Valentine” a phrase we use today. Additionally, from these retold events we have the idea of romanticism and heroism focused around one person, in this case, Valentine.
Even though these stories have been passed down through generations with no basis of fact, they all emphasize that he was a romantic and heroic figure.
Though some believe that the celebration of Valentine’s day was placed in the middle of February as the anniversary of his death or burial which may have occurred in 270 A.D. Others claim that the Christian church decided to put his feast day in the middle of February in an effort to Christianize the pagan festival, Lupercalia.
Lupercalia was a festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman God of Agriculture as well as Roman founders, Remus and Romulus.
This festival survived the initial rise of Christianism but was outlawed near the end of the 5th century as it was deemed “un-Christian” by Pope Gelasius. He later declared February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day.
It would not be until much later that the day would definitely be associated with love and romance. During the middle ages, in England and in France it was believed that February 14th was the beginning of the bird mating season and as such it should also be a day for love and romance.
English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to record Valentines day as a romantic celebration in his 1375 poem, “Parliament of Foules” saying, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”