Valentine’s Day – where does it come from and why do we celebrate it?

Valentine’s Day, also known as Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, is celebrated worldwide, every year on February the 14th

Originating as a Western Christian feast day, where one or two early saints (Valentinus), were honoured, it is recognized today as a significant cultural, religious, as well as a commercial celebration of romance and romantic love.

There are various different stories / legends associated with February the 14th.  One is a written account of Saint Valentine of Rome’s imprisonment for performing weddings for soldiers who were, apparently, forbidden to marry (this, however, could never be proven).  Another legend is that Saint Valentine restored the sight of his judge’s blind daughter just before his execution.  In his farewell letter he wrote to her, he signed it “Your Valentine.”  The Feast of Saint Valentine was established by Pope Gelasius I in AD 496, to be celebrated on February 14, in honour of the Christian martyr, Saint Valentine of Rome, who died on that date in AD 269.

It was first associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.  In the 18th century, in England, it grew into an occasion where couples expressed their love for each other, by giving each other flowers, confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines), to each other.  Today symbols like heart-shaped chocolates, cards, doves, Cupid and the colour red and pink, are used on Valentine’s Day. 

Since the 19th century, handwritten and/or handmade valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.  In Europe, for example, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers as a “romantic symbol” and as an “invitation to unlock the giver’s heart.”  It is also given to children to ward off epilepsy (called Saint Valentine’s Malady).  In the Anglican Communion as well as the Lutheran Church, Saint is a Valentine’s Day is an official fest day.  In the Eastern Orthodox Church Saint Valentine’s Day is also celebrated, but on July the 6th and July the 30th.  July the 6th is in honour of the Roman presbyter, Saint Valentine, and July the 30th is in honour of Hieromartyr Valentine, Bishop of Interana (modern-day Terni).

Another legend about Valentine’s Day is that Saint Valentine cut hearts from parchment and gave it to the soldiers and persecuted Christians, as a reminder to the men of their vows and God’s love.  This could be a reason why hearts are widely used today.  Although the European folk traditions, connected with Saint Valentine and St. Valentine’s Day, have become marginalized by modern Anglo-American customs that focus on the romantic love, there are some remaining associations connecting the saint with the advent of spring.

While the sending of cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts, originated in the UK, Valentine’s Day is still connected with various regional customs in the UK.  For example, in Norfolk, a character by the name of “Jack” Valentine, knocks on the rear door of the houses, leaving sweets and presents for the children.  Although he left sweets, many children were still scared of this unknown, mystical person.

In Slovenia, Saint Valentine (also known as Zdravko), was one of the saints of spring, the saint of good health and the patron of the beekeepers and the pilgrims.   There is a proverb that says “Saint Valentine brings the keys of roots.”  Plants and flowers start to grow on this day; thus, it has been celebrated as the day when the first work in the vineyards and in the fields commences.  Another belief is that birds propose to each other or marry on that day.  A proverb says “Valentin – prvi spomladin” (“Valentine – the first spring saint”).

In some cultures, and social circles, Valentine’s Day is a day to appreciate friends.  For example, in Finland, they refer to Valentine’s Day as “Friends day,” which is more about remembering all friends rather than focusing solely on romance. In   Guatemala, it is known as the Day of Love and Friendship. It is similar to Valentine’s Day customs and traditions in countries such as the United States but it is also a time for many to show their appreciation for their friends.

In some places, especially White Carniola, Saint Valentine Day marks the beginning of spring.  Only recently has it been celebrated as the day of love.  Traditionally, it was March the 12th – Saint Gregory’s day; or it was February the 12th – Saint Vincent’s Day.  The patron saint of love was called Saint Anthony, whose day has been celebrated on June the 13th.

Whether you are celebrating romance, friendship or both, Valentine’s Day-customs should actually be celebrated each day.  Whether you are single, in a relationship or married, it is not just a day to spend money, but also to remember that love and friendship, go hand-in-hand.  We and our loved ones (romantically or otherwise), is special and unique.  Let us be grateful every day for all the people in our lives that brightens up our days, hold our hands, give us a shoulder to cry on when needed, and most of all, love us unconditionally.

After all; the greatest gift you can give someone is unconditional love:  love that doesn’t expect something in return, love that never judges, humiliates, is sarcastic or just rude, love that is pure.  Pure, unconditional love, is love without any strings attached; it is a space / place where you can be your authentic self.

Enjoy the day and to all of my readers, happy Saint Valentine’s Day!

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