Valentine's Day (OM-3)

Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14th every year. Every year about 1 billion cards are exchanged on Valentine’s Day, causing it to fall in second place right behind Christmas (obviously). Most couples celebrate this holiday with chocolates, flowers (especially roses), or cards. But the origins of this seemingly simple holiday is quite complex.

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The Complex Origins

There are three different stories about how Valentine’s Day came to be, I’ll be talking about all of them.

People say that this whole holiday started as a festival during the Roman Empire called Lupercalia which happened every year from February 13-15. During this festival, men would sacrifice a dog or goat, then strip naked and then proceed to hit woman with a animal skin whip. They thought that doing this would increase their fertility. This procedure and festival was done when Christianity wasn’t yet adopted into the Roman Empire, but it continued even when Christianity was legalized. Many people from the royal status would run around naked, they did this to spark laughter and to stay in shape, during the festival. Many women also stuck their hands out during the festival, believing that it would help during pregnancy, and the pain while delivering.

Also, men and women would put their names in a jar and would be drawn so couples could be made. The couples stayed together all three days of the festival or, if everything worked out they would get married. Although Lupercalia is around the times of the now Valentine’s Day, many historians believe that Lupercalia is not connected to Valentine’s Day in any way. They just think that it’s a mere coincidence that Lupercalia was on February 13-15.

The other two are seemingly similar, they both involve St. Valentine,but in different situations.It was said that Claudius II, the Roman Empire's ruler at the time between 268-270 A.D., banned marriage claiming that single men are better soldiers than those who are married because they have less things worry about and have better concentration. When Valentinus, at the time he was a priest, heard about this new ‘law’ per se, he kept on marrying young couples in secret. He did this for a while until he got caught, he was sentenced to death and was martyred in February the 14th. But this story has also been under dispute. People say that Claudius II never banned marriage, but actually encouraged men to have multiple wives.

VDThe third and final version claims that Valentinus was incarcerated after he tried to help prisoners escape from the harsh Roman prisons, where prisoner were beat and tortured. He fell in love with the warden's daughter after she visited him when he was in jail. He sent her letters while incarcerated, and before his death he allegedly sent her letter signed with, “From Your Valentine.”

All Christian priests by the name Valentine or Valentinus were martyred. On February 14th, Valentine's Day is celebrated in many Christian branches. The calendar of saints in the Lutheran church includes the celebration of St. Valentine, but the celebration of St. Valentine was removed from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints in 1969 because not much was known about him. However the church still recognizes him as a saint.

The Evolution of Valentine’s Day Gifts

As I said in the beginning of this article, about 1billion cards are sold annually on Valentine’s Day. But how did this “tradition”, per se, start?

Valentine’s Day was romanticized in Shakespeare's work, and gained popularity in Britain and Europe that way. Handmade paper cards started in the Middle Ages and became a must while celebrating the holiday. This tradition soon traveled to the New World where Americans caught on to the new holiday and started to share cards to each others loved ones.

Americans most likely started to exchange handmade cards during the early 1700’s. In the 1840’s, Esther A. Howland sold the first mass-produced valentines in America (as shown above on the left), she is now known as the “Mother of the Valentine.” She made valentines with intricate creations involving real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures. By the 18th century, it was common for people (friends and lovers) to exchange handwritten or little tokens of affection, of all social classes. And by 1900 cards were already being printed, replacing the written letters due to printing technology improvements (as shown on the right). Already made cards were, and still are, an easy way to show your love to someone.

The concept of flowers, especially roses, started in the 17th Century. The rose is supposed to signify the Goddess of Love, Venus. As for chocolate, the Spanish explorers brought it to the Old World in the 17th Century. Its popularity increased in Europe and it soon became an essential for Valentine’s Day.

Modern Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day has come a long way. Whether it started by an old Roman festival or a priest who married couples illegally or someone who helped people escape from harsh Roman prisons, it has definitely come a long way.

Modern Valentine’s Day is much more complicated than it was thousands of years ago. Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, The U.K., France, Australia, South Korea, and China. In South Korea, China and the U.K. they celebrate Valentine’s Day with the same concept, chocolates, flowers, etc., but are different than the rest. In the U.K. children are the ones that receive the candy, not those in relationships. In South Korea Valentine’s Day is split into two days, Valentine’s Day and White Day. On February 14th the women give their boyfriend a gift, and then on White Day, March 14th, the men return the favor trying to up the ante. And in China the equivalent to Valentine’s Day is Qixi, or the Seventh Night Festival. It falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month each year. During this festival, women prepare fruit offerings in hopes of finding a good husband. Couples go to temples to pray for happiness and prosperity. And at night, people look up and see the stars Vega and Altair come close during the pair’s annual reunion.

In the U.S. dinner reservations are usually set up at the couple's favorite restaurant or the restaurant where they had their first date. Gifts are exchanged, or if you want to be really romantic, you can get married. Cards, as said multiple times, are the most common thing to give or get during Valentine's Day, along with flowers and chocolates. Cards are really effortless, but can also be a small way to show your love to someone. And pairing that with some flowers and chocolates makes a very happy girlfriend (most likely). Parties are also held now, they can be hosted by hotels or those who just want to celebrate the holiday more freely. Men might buy their girlfriend a dress, a new pair of shoes, a necklace, or a purse. And women could get their boyfriend a watch, a wallet or cologne. In modern times gifts are more widely available which is why Valentine’s Day has become so complicated. There are too many options to choose from!!!

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