In a few days many countries around the world will be celebrating Valentine’s Day. This holiday has a history that started in the third century AD and has developed over the years to become that which we know. What do you really know about the holiday that you may be celebrating?
Saint Valentine’s Feast Day – A Dark Beginning
This holiday is named for Saint Valentine, but who was he exactly? There are a few possibilities, each with their own story.
The most popular choice is that of a Roman priest Valentinus, who was martyred by the emperor Claudius II reportedly on or around February 14 in the 3rd century. It is said that he was executed because he married young couples, even though marriage was banned by the emperor as it “ruined good soldiers.” In addition to marrying couples, he also aided Christians in general, which was considered a crime. Before his execution he was imprisoned and fell in love with the jailor’s daughter. He would send her notes signed “from your Valentine” – which is why today’s cards contain this phrase.
Another Valentinus, this time a bishop of Interamna (now known as Terni, Italy), was also martyred on February 14, although maybe a year or so apart from the priest Valentinus. Some Catholic sources say the two men were in fact one in the same, and Interamna’s bishop was spending time in Rome when he was imprisoned and martyred there. The story goes that Valentius was brought before Emperor Claudius II after being arrested for evangelizing. The emperor had no problem with the bishop until he tried to convert Claudius himself. Valentinus was given the chance to renounce his faith or be beaten with clubs and beheaded. As Valentinus refused, he was executed. The final burial grounds for both, or the same, Valentinus are along the Via Flaminia which was the road from Rome to Rimini on the coast of the Adriatic Sea.
Yet another Valentinus is linked to the holiday in The Catholic Encyclopedia. The only thing really known of him was that he was a saint who suffered with others in Africa Proconsularis, a Roman province along the northwest African coast which includes present-day Tunisia, western Libya, and northeast Algeria.
The Pagan Past Surrounding the Date
There was also already a pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia held in mid-February. This festival marked the beginning of their spring. Different rituals took place during Lupercalia to purify the city and keep evil spirits at bay. Most importantly, the pagan priests would sacrifice two animals: a goat which was for fertility and a dog for the purification part. After killing the animals, the goat’s skin was cut into strips, dipped in the blood from the sacrifices, and then used to slap both women and the crop fields. The women looked forward to this whipping as they believed it would increase their fertility in the upcoming year.
Later in the festivities, all of the young single women in the city would have their names put in a large urn. The unmarried men would then take turns pulling out a name to find their match for the length of the festival. These matches often, but not always, ended in marriage.
In 496, Pope Gelasius I and the early Christian church used Saint Valentine‘s day to replace this ritual, encouraging Romans to move from the pagan rituals to religious ones.
Modern Day Celebrations
Valentine’s Day gained its gentler, romantic side, beginning in the Middle Ages. Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare along with other famous writers and poets of their time began romanticizing the holiday, pushing its popularity in Britain and the rest of Europe. People also began to make handmade paper cards for the holiday.
In the 19th century, factory-made cards began to appear following the industrial revolution. The mass-production of these cards started in 1913 by the Hallmark Cards company in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. Since then, Valentine’s Day has become a roughly $20 billion industry. The modern-day holiday as known in the United States, Canada, Britain, and other Western countries, has been greatly commercialized. Many people even consider it as one created by greeting card companies, rather than a holiday that developed over more than a millennium. In addition to cards, roses, chocolates, jewelry, and lingerie are other gifts shared with spouses and sweethearts.
Fun Facts About the Holiday
Valentine’s Day has become a huge holiday throughout the world. It is celebrated in different ways, and even on different days, in countries and cultures around the globe.
In the United States and Canada, the holiday is not only for lovers, but also for family and friends. Even children exchange gifts with their friends, most often by the giving of valentines at school. These school valentines can be handmade or store-bought. Many times, the kids make their own “mailboxes” by decorating small boxes, such as empty tissue boxes, with colored paper, stickers, and crayons. Their schoolmates then drop off the cards in these boxes.
While France began celebrating the holiday in the Middle Ages along with the British, their German neighbors only truly began after World War II. Americans stationed in the country introduced it through their own festivities. In 1950 Nuremberg held Germany’s very first “Valentine’s Ball”. Today less than 40% of Germans celebrate the holiday – except in Bavaria where this number is over 50%! However, this is logical as the holiday overlaps with the carnival season, a much more widely-celebrated time.
Romania does not celebrate on 14 February, but rather 10 days later on the 24th. Dargobete, “the day the birds are betrothed”, mixes the celebrations of love and springtime. Young girls and boys pick flowers in the forest and wash their faces in the snow to bring happiness and health for the coming year (what a change from the bloody Lupercalia of Rome!).
Wales celebrates their patron saint of lovers, Saint Dwynwen’s, feast day on January 25th by exchanging lovespoons, carved wooden spoons. This tradition dates from the 1500s.
Japan and South Korea – Where the Love Isn’t Restricted to One Day
Japan and South Korea have two love-filled holidays. Japanese women kick things off on Valentine’s Day itself, February 14th, by offering chocolate to men in their lives. This chocolate falls into two types: giri-choco and honmei-choco. Giri-choco, which translates to “obligation chocolate”, is the nonromantic, often store-bought version, which women give to their friends, colleagues, and family, both male and female. Honmei-choco on the other hand is only given to one special person, be it a boyfriend, lover, husband, or just a romantic interest. Most Japanese women prepare the honmei-choco themselves as the time they spend making them shows how much they care for the recipient. Thus, in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, the stores become packed with women buying chocolates (heart-shaped or not), chocolate-making supplies, and cute gift wrap for the gifts. South Korean women can give chocolate to their guys, but also other gifts such as candy and flowers.
One month later, on March 14th, it is the men’s turn. White Day in Japan sees men gifting those women who gave them chocolates on February 14th gifts of their own. If they choose to give chocolates as well, these are usually white to go along with the day’s name. However, most often the men are expected to give gifts that are two or three times as valuable as the ones they received. Men in South Korea also must include an extra gift in return to their ladies. White Day began in Japan at the end of the 1970s before spreading to South Korea and other neighboring Asian countries.
And if someone has no sweetheart with whom to celebrate? Well for them there’s South Korea’s Black Day on April 14th where lonely hearts can drown their sorrows in black bean-paste noodles known as jajangmyeon. The black color of these noodles is supposed to reflect the color of their sad hearts.
Or you can celebrate China’s Guanggun Jie, Singles’ Day, on November 11th. The date 11/11 contains four “ones”, i.e. four singles. Although not an official public holiday in China, it has become the largest shopping day in the world – both online and offline. Alibaba, China’s equivalent of Amazon, reported says of over $26 billion last year. Other countries in Southeast Asia and even German and Norway have since adopted this sales day.
If you are single and still want to celebrate the day on February 14th, treat yourself to chocolates, a nice meal, a day at the spa, a day full of video games, or even by playing casino games, Blackjack, or online roulette at a reputable online casino, such as Mummys Gold.