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Valentine's Day Lore And History
Valentine's Day, that special day set aside on February 14 each year for true love, when young lovers and even the elderly loves give each other flowers, special gifts, cards, candy and promises. The roots of Valentines Day were planted by ancient Pagan belief. This was a fertility celebration usually performed around February 15. Lupercalis or Lupercalia is what the ancient peoples of Rome called this festival. Although the history of this holiday is obscure and has numerous legends and lore surrounding it, Valentine's Day, as we now know it, contains both Christian and Pagan traditions.
The ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia was celebrated annually in mid-February and was to honor Lupercus, who was the god of fertility and Juno, the queen of Roman gods and goddesses. Juno was also the patron of women and marriage. This special festival was to celebrate the coming of spring and the promise of fertility not only for the people, but their flocks and planted fields. One of the customs was that each young maiden of the village would put her name in a large urn. The young men would each draw a name from the urn and the couple was to be paired for the following year. Often, the paired couple ended the year wedded to each other.
As Christianity gained power, old Pagan holidays and festivals were renamed to honor early Christian martyrs. Pope Gelasius renamed this holiday in 496 AD and it was to be celebrated on February 14. as a feast day of the Roman martyr, Saint Valentine of the 3rd century. But, as to which St. Valentine the Pope meant to honor is deeply shadowed by mystery. There were three St. Valentine's in early Christianity. There was a priest in Rome, a bishop in Terni, and another who had died in Africa. It is rather odd that all three had actually been martyred on February 14. Was this possibly done to further hide the Pagan roots of this celebration? As with other holidays, notably Christmas, the dates set aside each year for these special occasions coincided with the ancient Pagan rituals and therefore replaced them to become known as Christian holidays.
Obscurity and imaginative legends make the origins of the holiday even more mysterious. Most people are quite satisfied that the proper St. Valentine whom the holiday was named after, was the priest whom the Roman emperor Claudius II imprisoned, around 270, for holding marriage ceremonies in secret. You see, Claudius had issued an edict forbidding marriage - one reason being that married men did not make good, loyal soldiers to fight in his army. A married man, so Claudius thought, was weak because of the attachment to their wives and family. Valentine was found out and put in prison, where he was later executed.
While Valentine was in prison he became a friend to Asterius, the jailer, who had a daughter that was blind. According to Catholic legend , Valentine, because of his strong faith, miraculously restored the sight of Asterius' daughter. The Protestant faith believed differently. Just before his execution, he asked for a pen and paper from his jailer, and signed a farewell message to her "From Your Valentine," a phrase that lived ever after. Valentine was martyred for refusing to renounce his religion and belief in marriage. Valentine was executed on February 14 in 270 AD and thus became a Patron Saint of the annual festival. Young Roman men began giving the women they admired notes of affection on February 14 and the protocol required that St. Valentine's name be these greetings.
By the 14th century, the holiday was expressly meant to be for love and romance. Geoffrey Chaucer, 1342 - 1400, the English poet, composed a poem to honor the engagement of King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. As was his tradition, Chaucer associated this with a feast day - St. Valentine's Day in this case.
By the Middle Ages, Valentine's day was even more associated with romance and courtship, in spite of the Christian church's efforts to sanctify the holiday. The traditions of the holiday eventually evolved to gift giving and the exchange of cards. The cards were made by loving hands with ribbons, laces, dried flowers and would have cupids, lovebirds and hearts on them. This tradition remains to this day - although the younger generations will sometimes prefer cartoon figures or action heroes on the cards rather than the lace and ribbons! Regardless of what is on the cards, the intent remains the same - love, romance and courtship.
0, my love is like a red, red rose,
that's newly sprung in June.
0, my love is like a melody,
that's sweetly play'd in tune.
Robert Burns, 1759 - 1796
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