During this time of year, the days are getting longer. As a result of the increasing light, you might hear birds chirping and plenty of animals coming out to mate. Because this is the perfect time for animals to pair up, it seems reasonable that people would also join together in love. So it seems that this is when Valentine’s Day was born.
Today, Valentine’s Day has become a booming enterprise. Twenty-five percent of all cards sent each year are valentines, the Greeting Card Association shows.
The origin of this holiday has been widely argued. Most of the legends behind this celebration involve both ancient Roman tradition and Christian beliefs.
As the Roman story goes, St. Valentine was a clergyman who had been sent to jail for performing illegal marriage ceremonies.
Around 270 A.D., Emperor Claudius II wanted a large army, but few men were enrolling. He believed young bachelors made better soldiers and that if men were not married, then they would be more willing to fight, so he banned marriages. But even after the law was established, Valentine kept performing marriage ceremonies. It was not long before he was caught and sent to jail to be put to death.
Apparently, many people had visited him while he was in jail. One of these people happened to be the prison guard’s daughter. They became friends and she visited him every day. On the day the priest was to die, he left his friend a note that read, “Love from your Valentine.” And from that day forward – Feb. 14 – people send each other messages and cards that have that exact message.
Another version of this story still has St. Valentine being martyred, but for different reasons. It is said that he refused to give up Christianity and so he was killed. According to this version, he died on Feb. 14 in 269 A.D.
Other stories argue that Valentine may have been killed for trying to help Christians escape cruel Roman prisons, where they were treated horribly – often beaten and tortured.
A completely different account of this holiday claims that it began as an honor to Juno, queen of the Roman gods and goddesses. The day after this honor, Romans celebrated at the Lupercalia festival.
On Feb. 15, the Luperci order of priests in ancient Rome went to a cave in order to sacrifice goats and dogs. They skinned the animals’ flesh, cut them into long bloody strips and ran through the streets of the towns waving the pieces of flesh. But citizens did not seem to mind. They felt lucky if the goat skinners chose them because this ritual was thought of as an act of purification and helped to drive away evil forces in the city.
Dr. Sabina Magliocco, a professor of anthropology at CSUN, said that later on the priests of the Roman church tried to do away with the pagan element of these feasts by layering Valentine’s Day onto this day. And since the Lupercalia feast began around mid-February, it seems the clergy chose St. Valentine’s Day for the celebration of this new feast, she said.
Through the centuries the holiday changed. In the Victorian Age, people were extremely prudish about sex and wanted to generate a romantic sense in courting women, Magliocco said. So giving gifts and exchanging handmade cards on Valentine’s Day became common in England. Eventually, the practice spread to the American colonies.