by Frances Chapman
Sophomore, Political Science and Arabic major
While smothered in chocolates, teddy bears, and flowers, many people forget the original meaning of Valentine’s Day. This “day of love” to many, or “Hallmark Holiday” to others, has a historical practice richer than the festival’s chocolates.
Consumer interests manufactured Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day has a centuries-long religious and cultural tradition around the globe. St. Valentine was a Catholic martyr killed by the hands of the Romans on February 14th for reasons not fully known to historians. Many legends surround his death, one of which, according to the Catholic Church, states that St. Valentine secretly and illegally married Roman Christians soldiers under the rule of Emperor Claudius. Others simply state that he defied the pagan emperor when he wanted to proselytize.
The popularity of Valentine’s Day was an instance of religious syncretism, where the Catholic Church blended pagan beliefs of the Romans into the church’s tradition of sainthood. According to the National Public Radio, the Romans celebrated the Feast of Lupercalia on February 13th-15th to commemorate love and fertility. This festival of debauchery included a lottery where men and women were assigned a match for the duration of the holiday, a sacrificial goat and dog, and the tradition of whipping women for what the Romans believed would enhance fertility.
There is one St. Valentine.
The true identity of St. Valentine is steeped in mystery. The Romans killed multiple men (and eventually martyrs) named Valentine on February 14th, creating difficulty for historians to discern the details between them. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, February 14th honors three St. Valentines: one from Rome, another from Terni(a city near Rome), and a third from Africa.
Valentine’s Day is only celebrated on February 14th.
Due to the global nature of Valentine’s Day, many cultures have adapted the holiday to fit their specific needs. For instance, members of the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrate the festival in July to align with their separate calendar. Moreover, the predominately Catholic Brazil celebrates the holiday of love in June to provide adequate distance between it and another holiday, Carnival.
St. Valentine is only associated with love.
St. Valentine is also considered the patron saint of epilepsy. According to The Journal of Neurology, Neuroscience, and Psychiatry, many Christians claim that St. Valentine cured a young woman, who happened to be engaged, from her epilepsy, and important locations in St. Valentine’s life are considered sites of pilgrimage.
Moreover, St. Valentine is associated with spring. The English writer Geoffrey Chaucer crafted a poem called Parlement of Foules, where Chaucer described birds that would typically appear in May as the season is in full bloom.
Whether you are in the midst of company or your romantic outlook is as shadowy as St. Valentine, you will not be alone as the globe celebrates this long-held holiday.