Every 14th of February, couples celebrate love. It happens to be all about red hearts, flowers, candy, and romance. The surprising thing is that at the beginning, it was not all about expressing affection- history tells something else. This day of romance is named after a Christian martyr- Saint Valentine, whose story dates back to the 5th century.
Table of Contents
- So, Who is This Saint Valentine Behind Courtly Love and Red Hearts?
- The Wild and Crazy Lupercalia
- The Middle Age; then came the romantic William Shakespeare
- Modern Age; Valentine’s Day Just Gets Sweeter
- The Traditions of Valentine’s Day
- 8 Unique Traditions from All Over the World
So, Who is This Saint Valentine Behind Courtly Love and Red Hearts?
Saint Valentine, officially known as Saint Valentine of Rome, is the patron saint of affianced couples, engaged couples, happy marriages, lovers, and young people. He was a Roman priest who served when emperor Claudius ruled and persecuted Christians. This emperor also prohibited marriage of young men- this was under the proposition that unmarried soldiers fought better in war.
Saint Valentine was arrested, imprisoned and tortured for secretly marrying these young men against the command of the emperor. In the year 269 AD, Valentine was executed, all because of his stand for love and marriage. It is said that his last words to a girl, were words that he wrote by signing off, “from your Valentine.” Those words have inspired valentine cards all over the world.
His martyrdom was honored by the Catholic church with the celebration of Valentine’s Day.
The story of the Valentine the Roman saint has an archeological backing since archeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and ancient church dedicated to him. There may be different stories, but one thing is clear- the day was created as a day of love, devotion, and romance.
The Wild and Crazy Lupercalia
Another legend has it that Valentine’s Day was created to overshadow the pagan holiday, Lupercalia. During the Lupercalia (ran from 13th to 15th of February), the Romans celebrated love and fertility by sacrificing a dog and a goat, then whipped young women- this was believed to make them fertile and productive for the coming year. The women would actually line up to be whipped. The festivals were also a time for matchmaking where men would draw names of young women from a common jar. Simply said, the romantics were drunk, naked, and indulged in merrymaking.
Later in the fifth century, Pope Gelasius I is said to have promoted St. Valentine’s day to expel the pagan rituals.
Please watch this video about the Valentine history.
The Middle Age; then came the romantic William Shakespeare
As the years passed, Shakespeare romanticized his work through literary writings. Up to this present day, Shakespeare’s poems are on many valentine’s cards. Geoffrey Chaucer, popularly known as the father of literature, is also credited to have contributed immensely to linking St. Valentine’s Day with romance. During this period, formal messages started appearing on hand-made cards.
It is also during the Middle Age that birds became a symbol of Valentine’s Day. The reason is that birds are thought pair up for mating in mid-February.
Modern Age; Valentine’s Day Just Gets Sweeter
Eventually, Valentine’s tradition made its way to the modern world. The 19th century ushered in commercially printed Valentine’s cards. Since then, February 14 has never been the same.
The Traditions of Valentine’s Day
1. The heart symbol
Valentines is bombarded with red hearts, heart-shaped candies and heart cards and much more. The heart shape is recognized as the symbol of affection globally. The origin of the symbol is not straightforward, but some people believe that it was derived from the shape of ivy leaves which are strongly associated with fidelity. Others believe that the shape is linked to the four chambers of the actual heart when dissected. Another story has it that it is the shape of Cupid’s arrowhead.
2. Cupid, the god of love
Cupid appears as a winged infant with a bow and a quiver of arrows, whose wounds inspire love in his victims. It is said that if Cupid shoots and his arrow hits you, you will helplessly fall in love with the next person that you meet. It is believed that Cupid was the son of Venus, the true goddess of love and mercury, the winged messenger of the gods. In one of Cupid’s tales, the story has it that Cupid shot himself because he was so astonished when he saw princess Psyche’s beauty. He then irrevocably fell in love with her.
Sometimes Cupid is usually blindfolded. Reason? Love is blind.
3. Roses and Lace
Valentine’s Day is never complete without flowers. Since time in memorial, the rose flower has been a favorite for poets; for them, it is a symbol of beauty, passion, and love. A legend has it that Rodathe, a devotee of Artemis, was chased by unruly suitors. She ran into a temple, and it enraged goddess Diana. She then turned Rodathe into a flower and the suitors into thorns.
For 100 years, women used to drop lace handkerchiefs, and as a courtesy, the man near the lady would pick it up. Some women would drop the handkerchiefs intentionally in front of the man that they like, and it became a sign of romance from then.
4. Love knots, birds, and doves
Love knots represent the kind of love that will last forever. They are a series of intertwined loops with no end or beginning. On the other hand, lovebirds and doves signify purity, humbleness and the innocence of love. They are also a symbol of loyalty between couples.
8 Unique Traditions from All Over the World
The above are the widely used symbols that are almost universal. Some countries have adopted fascinating traditions. We have sampled some of those places.
- In Denmark, instead of red roses, they exchange white flowers known as snowdrops.
- For England, young women place five bay leaves under the pillow, to bring the dreams of their future husbands.
- February 14th in the Philippines is a day for mass weddings. Couples meet in malls and other open public places to exchange vows together.
- In South Africa, it is customary for women to wear their hearts on their shirtsleeves with names of a man that they have interest in- the men would then come to learn of their secret admirers.
- Girls in Japan give a traditional “giri choco” to their male friends, colleagues, and bosses with no romantic association. If one wants to communicate a stronger affection, they can include a handmade gift known as “honmei choco.” On exactly 14th of March, the men get to respond to the gifts.
- One day is never enough to celebrate love in Argentina. Other than 14th of February, they take another whole week between 13th and 20th of July to exchange candies and kisses.
- For Germany, in addition to the flowers and kisses, they also include a pig. The pig represents luck and lust. It can be given in the form of pig chocolate, picture form, or as a statue.
- In Italy, Valentine’s is a classical celebration when people exchange a box full of chocolate kisses accompanied by romantic quotes printed in four different languages. In another Italian tradition, the first man that a girl sees on Valentine’s Day would become her husband and they would marry within a year.