The complete mess that is the origin of Valentine’s Day

LAURA LAPHAM — The calendar has once again cycled around to February, and amongst the polar winds and slushy snow is a time of warmth, not from the weather but the heart.

Valentine’s day is a long celebrated tradition, old enough that its origins are a bit of a mystery to some.

Valentine’s day, also known as the Feast of St. Valentine, is at the same time as the old Roman celebration of Lupercalia, a festival about purification and fertility.

The festival was described by Plutarch, a Greek historian, and essayist who became a Roman citizen, and he did not understand the origins of the festival but took great care in describing the festival activities.

The festival began with a sacrifice of goats and a dog. The goat sacrifices would then have their hides cut into strips and used as thongs given to two young men, which were used to whip those who got close, but married women would not avoid them believing the thongs promoted fertility.

However, any concept of creating pairs of fair lovers by lottery is highly likely to be a creative addition added in later writings of the events.

Later in the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I created St. Valentine’s day on the 14th of February after the holiday of Lupercalia had experienced a revival as a cultural practice with some senators believing its suppression had caused disease. Pope Gelasius found the idea ridiculous. However, after the creation of Valentine’s day, there is no documentation of Pope Gelasius promoting St. Valentine’s day as a replacement of Lupercalia.

The history of St. Valentine himself is not extremely clear, and there are many legends surrounding the holiday’s relation to St. Valentine. There are over 30 saints named Valentine and a few named Valentina. Possibly the day was named after the priest of Rome, who was arrested and martyred around 270 A.D by beheading. He became close with the jailer’s daughter while imprisoned,  and supposedly sent a letter before his death signed “for your Valentine.”

The day also might have been named after St. Valentine of Terni, who was a bishop who died around 270 A.D. by beheading; although, on the other hand, these two saints might have been the same person. There is a multitude of different versions of the story of the St. Valentine that Valentine’s day is named after.

Geoffrey Chaucer could be credited for being the founder of Valentine’s day as a day of romance with him being the first well-known poet to bring together the ideas of Valentine’s day, love, and mating birds. Valentine’s day is described as a spring celebration in his works, but the early date of February 14th in what is considered winter could come from confusion on which St. Valentine was being honored in his works. One St. Valentine was martyred on March 3rd, which could be the subject of his works, since the date might have only been used as a representation of spring.

The first love letter written in association of Valentine’s day was written in 1477; however, whether this is the true first valentine is not important,since the traditio did flourish during the late Middle ages. The holiday became more prevalent in the 18th century and onward where lovers used the day to exchange cards, candies, and flowers with each other. Where for the aristocrats the day represented a day of extravagant gift giving like jewelry or a great bouquet of flowers, but for the wider population the day represented a day of matchmaking games. The tradition of handwritten notes has declined over the centuries with produced notes rising in popularity.

Now there are many legends, myths, and histories that lie in the origins of Valentine’s Day, and the truth behind the holiday is convoluted at best. However, today it is a day of love and romance and a precursor to the February 15th holiday of National Singles Awareness Day, but no matter the origin, tell someone you love them on Valentine’s day and spread a little love around campus.

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