The month of love

Did you ever wonder where Valentine’s Day comes from and/or why it is called Valentine?  Many, many years ago, the pagan’s had a festival called Lupercalia.  Celebrated on the 15th of February (the ides of February), the festival celebrated fertility.  It was dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as the 2 Roman founders Romulus and Remus.  The latter relates to the story of the 2 children, that was raised by a she-wolf in a cave.  Initially Lupercalia survived the rise of Christianity, under the Catholic church.  However, it was outlawed at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared the 14th of February St. Valentine’s Day.  Valentine, or Valentinus, were a Catholic saint, that was executed. 

There are different stories surrounding St. Valentine; some believe it was a priest who secretly helped single men get married, when it was outlawed in the 3rd century in Rome, by Emperor Claudius II.  He believed single men made better soldiers than those that are married!  Another story suggests that Valentine (Valentinus) helped Christians escape Roman prisons.  When he, himself, was imprisoned, he fell in love with the guards’ daughter (who visited him) and, before his execution, wrote her a letter and signed it “Your Valentine.” 

During the Middle Ages, in England and France, it was believed that the 14th of February was the beginning of the birds’ mating season.  Therefore, it aided in the idea that February is the month of love and that this day should be a day for romance.  Geoffrey Chaucer, an English poet, wrote the first romantic poem in 1375, celebrating St. Valentine’s Day.  A quote from his poem reads: “For this was sent on Seynt Valenty’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”  Another poem, written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, were found in the Tower of London, where he was prisoner. 

Where does Cupid fit into all of this?  Today, he is portrayed as a naked cherub launching love-arrows at unsuspecting lovers.  However, the Roman God Cupid has his roots in Greek mythology.  The Greek God of love, Called Eros, was a handsome, immortal, who played with the emotions of both Gods and men.  He used golden arrows to incite love and sometimes leaden ones to sow aversion!  There are different accounts of his birth.  Some believe he is the son of Nyx and Erebus; others believe he is the son of Aphrodite and Ares.  Others suggest he is, in fact, the son or Iris and Zephyrus; or even Aphrodite and Zeus (who would’ve been his father and grandfather)!  It was only during the Hellenistic period, that he started to be portrayed as the mischievous, chubby child you see today. 

Valentine’s Day, which is celebrated worldwide today, only became popular during the 17th century, in the United Kingdom.  By the middle of the 18th century, it was common for friends and lovers, of all social classes, to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes.  By the 1900s, printed cards began to replace written letters, due to the improvements in printing technology.  Interestingly, these ready-made cards became popular as a means of expressing your emotions, because direct expression of your emotions were discouraged!

The United States began exchanging hand-made Valentine cards during the early 1700s.  in 1840, Esther A. Howland began selling the first, mass-produced Valentine cards, in America.  Known as “the mother of Valentine,” she made cards with real lace, ribbons and colourful pictures known as “scrap.”  Today, an estimated 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year (could even be more)!  This makes Valentine’s Day the second largest card sending holiday of the year; Christmas is still number one! 

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