Welcome back to the 255! Fresh winter snow outside, a mug of piping hot chocolate in your hand, and the warmth of a blanket or two; what could possibly be more romantic? February is often viewed as “a month of romance” all centered around the internationally celebrated Valentine’s Day. Each year couples all around the globe attempt to muster together a series of activities that honor their romance and love for each other. But why? In reality, who is this notorious St. Valentine that we all learned about in elementary school? How has Valentine’s day changed throughout history? And why is the holiday centered about romance and love? Yupp, you guessed it. This post highlights the history of Valentine’s Day in our efforts to debunk some common misconceptions and share with you the reality behind this annual holiday.
The tradition of Valentine’s Day dates back to its predecessor, Lupercalia. Lupercalia is a Pagan festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman God of Agriculture. This holiday took place in the ides of February to celebrate the changing of the seasons. Often through sacrificing livestock, participants of Lupercalia would honor the Roman God, Faunus, and wish for fertility in the upcoming harvest. In the Middle Ages, the Christian Church deemed the celebration of Lupercalia unholy and barbaric. As a result, the holiday was “christianized” and the theme of love and romance replaced its traditional roots. Many Europeans believed February to be the start bird mating season and thus justified the new thematic holiday. Finally, religious authorities named the celebration after Saint Valentine which popularized the official title “Valentine’s Day.” The first recorded work mentioning the holiday was Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls.
But who was Saint Valentine? Although the historical figure, St. Valentine, is commonly mentioned in a single telling of a medieval romantic, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. The Church recognizes three different Saint Valentines. The first defied King Claudius II’s law prohibiting the marriage of men in the military by secretly holding ceremonies for young couples wishing to be wed. When Claudius discovered Valentine’s secret endeavors, he was immediately sentenced to death. The second St. Valentine was a bishop in Europe, living in the same time period as Claudius II. He too was eventually sentenced to death and beheaded. Finally, the last recognized Valentine assisted Christians escaping Roman prisons. He was said to have fallen in love with the daughter of one of the prison guards. Unshockingly, this Valentine, too, was sentenced to death. Before he died, he wrote a letter to his young love in which he famously signed From your Valentine at the end. Whether or not any of these stories are true, the character of St. Valentine quickly became a reflection of heroism and romance in defiance of power figures.
Through historic poetry and literature, the connection between romance and Valentine’s Day solidified. The earliest recognition of Valentine’s Day as an annual celebration of love is in the Charter of the Court of Love by Charles VI of France in 1400. Since then, references to Valentine’s Day became common in poetry and literature. A reference even made it into Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which he writes:
“To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day, All in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine. Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes, And dupp’d the chamber-door; Let in the maid, that out a maid Never departed more.”Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5, William Shakespeare
And through the expansion of Western thought through colonialism and capitalism, the holiday has become internationally recognized as an annual celebration of love and romance. In honor the holiday this year, we wanted to share with you one of our favorite love poems.
“i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)” – E.E. Cummings
No matter how you celebrate Valentine’s Day, all of us here at the 255 wish you and your loved ones the best. We hope you enjoyed this post and walk away with a greater understanding of the history and reality behind Valentine’s Day. Instead of focusing on the stereotypical notions of romantic relationships and gift giving, we encourage you to self reflect on your definition of love and joy and celebrate accordingly. Lastly, as always, a gentle reminder to be kind, stay safe, and constantly give love and joy both to yourself and others.