Everybody has their conceptions of Valentine’s day. Maybe for those of a more pragmatic nature, it is just a cynical marketing tool, the beneficiaries being among others, flower shops, shops that sell chocolate. The card industry must welcome it with glee, every year when it comes around, restaurants must also relish it, all those romantic candle lit dinners. Young people of a certain age attach a significance to it. There are those bereft of partners, who dread it, when it comes around, as it only amplifies their loneliness
The origin of this much heralded day is shrouded by mystery. For some reason February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains elements of both Christian and ancient Roman traditions. One legend has it that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers compared to those equipped with wives and families, he took the extreme step of forbidding marriage for young men.
Valentine defied the emperor and continued secretly to marry those who chose the path of marriage. When his defiance was discovered it was decreed he should be put to death, accordingly the priest was eventually beheaded and then named a martyr by the Church .
Another legend contends that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured.
According to one theory , an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his prison guard’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is said that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that still prevails today.
Whichever legend you chose to believe among the many unsubstantiated, we are led to believe Valentine was sympathetic, heroic and in essence a true romantic.
Some believe the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in order to “Christianize” and counter balance the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, also to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.
The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written under duress in 1415 by a French man Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.
It was the English writer Chaucer who first linked St. Valentine’s Day with romance and was later followed by Shakespeare with references to the day in his works. . By the 18th century, gift-giving and exchanging handmade cards on Valentine’s Day had become common in England.
Whatever the history, which is of little concern to many Valentine’s day will always feature strongly in many people’s diaries.
Follow Francis H Powell on Twitter