A Day of Lust and Love

A time for union and cheer, Valentine’s Day is a day set aside for lovers and friends to show their love and appreciation for each other in unique and romantic ways, but the origins of this celebration may not be as pretty as many are lead to believe.

The “Roman” in “Romance”

The true origin of the celebration has yet to be determined, but many signs point to Rome. Between the days of February 13 and 15,  the festival of Lupercalia was held, where the agricultural god Faunus and the alleged founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus were celebrated. Romans would participate in a peculiar method of selecting mates. Women would line up brazenly and willfully to be struck by drunken men – it was believed that being hit would allow a woman to become fertile. Men would also draw the names of women to accompany them for the duration of the festival. If the “couple” seemed a good match, they would tend to stick together, but otherwise, the two would separate.

The day’s namesake has a similarly dark origin, some historians believing that the name originates from two women, both of which held the surname Valentine, who were executed by Emperor Claudius II on the fourteenth of February. A third Valentine, St. Valentine himself, is theorized to have been caught performing marriages for young couples at a time Claudius has legalized the act. Another theory concerning St. Valentine suggests that he helped Christians escape Rome, and a letter written to an imprisoned lover signed “Your Valentine” was intercepted, which is thought to have become a custom to sign at the end of love letters. The martyrdom of the three was later honored in the celebration that became St. Valentine’s Day at the hands of the Catholic Church.

Other claims to the celebration becoming more “mainstream” can be traced back to an attempt by the Church under the leadership of Pope Gelasius I to offset the pagan rituals of Lupercalia.

Popularization and Commercialization

The celebration of St. Valentine’s day, while it grew in popularity once implemented by the Church, did not see true expansion until the days of Shakespeare.. The literary mastermind romanticized the day further by incorporating in to a number of their works, perhaps most notably Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet. Popularity would soar throughout Britain and much of Europe, with the writing of cards becoming even more of a commonplace tradition for the holiday.

Around the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries that the celebration would begin to morph into its modern incarnation. The exchange of cards has been popular for quite some time, and numerous methods of revealing romantic affection had taken root, but for many of the wealthy, something more was desired. With their money, class, and culture, the financially superior would take matters into their own hands, creating their own way of celebrating Valentine’s Day. It became tradition to exchange gifts of extreme monetary value to those seen as “Valentines”, and compliments of rhyme and verse rose similarly in popularity. The purchasing of expensive gifts would eventually lead to the traditions known today.

Americanization

Like many things of European origin, St. Valentine’s Day eventually found its way to the United States, and the nation’s growing consumer culture may be to blame for it becoming so mainstream. A newspaper in the 1840s known as The Public Ledger published an article stating that it was important that Americans needed “more soul-play and less head-work” and more opportunities which would allot an abandonment of feeling. This would lead to the word “valentine” to evolve from a symbol of feeling to a symbol of materialism and item exchange.

Over the next few decades, companies would begin to market Valentine’s paraphernalia, introducing and popularizing the chocolates, jewelry, and florals  known so well today.

In the Name of Love

Valentine’s Day may have a murky past of lust, tyranny, and greed, but what has been the heart of the celebration since its initialization  remains. Love is thought by some to be a force with the power to overcome any obstacle, and the tainted history of this yearly celebration is no exception.