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The story of Valentine’s Day
- Linda Chivell
- Monday, 23 January 2017
The origin of Valentine’s Day is still debated, but regardless of how it really began, lovers have been marking their love on this day since at least the 17th century.
Although the origins of Saint Valentine’s Day lie shrouded in obscurity, Saint Valentine himself, a third-century Roman martyr, seems to have nothing to do with the romantic traditions that became associated with his feast.
For centuries before Christianity came on the scene, in fact, until the 4th century A.D., the Romans celebrated a mid-February fertility festival called Lupercalia in which the beginnings of Valentine’s Day are rooted.
The belief was that the goddess Juno Februata ( hence February) inflicted her “love fever” on the youth. Lupercalia festivities, which was celebrated February 13 through 15, involved an orgy and sexual excesses, the sacrifice of goats and dogs and the burning of salt meal-cakes prepared by the Vestal Virgins. Young men would randomly pick love notes of eligible, young woman from a container after which they would try to guess who wrote the notes.
Another practice was to smear the foreheads of youth with the blood of the sacrificed goats and dogs and send them off with a priest around the perimeter of the city, whipping woman along the way with strips of the goats’ skin. The belief was that the ritual would enhance the young woman’s fertility. During the Roman Empire, the participants would run around naked and have sex in public.
After the rise of the Christian Church, Festival of Lupercalia was so popular that even religion could not steer the people away from their pagan ways.For years the Christian Church tried to suppress the festival of Lupercalia.
Pope Gelasius changed Lupercalia from the 15th to the 14th day of February and renamed it after the legendary St Valentine in an attempt to redefine the pagan celebration. St Valentine, who legend says, was executed by Emperor Claudius II for performing marriages outside the rule of the Clergy.
The Greeks of old didn’t celebrate Lupercalia. However, they were the first to come up with a love goddess, Aphrodite, who immediately gave her name to aphrodisiacs, among other things. It is still not known who the father of her son, Eros, was but his name gained immortality in our word - “erotic.” The Romans enthusiastically adopted both of them early on, calling her “Venus” and her son, “Cupid.”
The Greco-Roman had an obsession with deities and thought nothing of adding to the already-massive roll-call of gods and goddesses. At one point they decided that the love goddess and her sidekick needed help. In nine out of ten myths, she had little maternal control over her son Eros/Cupid, who as everyone knew, was the juvenile delinquent of the family.
The minor deities that the folks of long ago dreamed up were cuddlesome little rascals. Like Eros/Cupid, they were depicted as young boys or even toddlers. They had rosy, infantile bodies with wings. They ran about nude, playfully shooting arrows and getting into adorable mischief.
For many, the conversation heart candy is a classic 220th-centurysymbol of Valentine’s Day. Can you believe that these chatty little confections date all the way back to 1847?
In London, The Star newspaper published a page of poems and thoughts on February 14th, 1791 on how this day for lovers had come about and how the day was represented in the literature of the day.