Valentine’s Day is an annual festival to celebrate romantic love, friendship and admiration. Every year on 14 February people celebrate this day by sending messages of love and affection to partners, family and friends. Couples send Valentine’s Day cards and flowers and spend special time together to honour their love for each other. The day gets its name from a famous saint, but there are several stories of who he was. The popular belief about St Valentine is that he was a priest from Rome in the third century AD.
Who was St. Valentine?
The history of Valentine’s Day–and the story of its patron saint (St. Valentine)–is shrouded in mystery. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Still others insist that it was Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop, who was the true namesake of the holiday. He, too, was beheaded by Claudius II outside Rome.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.
How did Valentine’s Day start?
Having a particular Valentine’s Day is a very old tradition, thought to have originated from a Roman festival. The Romans had a festival called Lupercalia in the middle of February – officially the start of their springtime. It’s thought that as part of the celebrations, boys drew names of girls from a box. They’d be boyfriend and girlfriend during the festival and sometimes they’d get married. Later when Rome became Christian and the Catholic Church was determined to stamp out any remaining paganism therefore Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia and proclaimed 14 February as Saint Valentine’s Day, thus establishing this feast day on the Catholic Calendar of Saints.
The poet Chaucer in the Middle Ages was the first to link St Valentine with romantic love. This was the beginning of the tradition of courtly love, a ritual of expressing love and admiration, usually in secret. This custom spread throughout Europe and stories grew about a High Court of Love where female judges would rule on issues related to love on 14 February each year. Historians believe that these meetings were in fact gatherings where people read love poetry and played games of flirtation.
What is Valentine’s Day in Contemporary Times?
While Valentine’s Day is celebrated in most countries, different cultures have developed their own traditions for this festival. In some parts of the world Valentine’s Day is observed as a day for expressing love between family members and friends, rather than that of romantic couples. Some traditions include leaving lollies and gifts for children and others include acts of appreciation between friends.
Valentine’s Day is most commonly associated with romantic love, with millions of Valentine’s Day cards being exchanged each year. Gifts of flowers or a single red rose are sent with romantic messages to loved ones and couples spend special time together.
Many couples choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day with dinner, a picnic or special home-cooked meal. Many restaurants offer Valentine’s Day dinner promotions and food is often presented with symbols of love like hearts and flowers. Another popular Valentine’s Day activity is to indulge in a luxury hotel stay in a beautiful location, allowing a couple to get away from it all and enjoy some quality time together. Marriage proposals are also popular on Valentine’s Day, and it is often chosen as the perfect day to express their love and commitment. Some marriage proposals are delivered very creatively, such as after climbing to the top of a mountain, or posting a message on a billboard. Whatever the method, marriage proposals made on Valentine’s Day are generally romantic and memorable.