Observant citizens of The Manoverse may have noticed that awhile back I created a new category for the archives called Holidays & Celebrations. That idea came about mainly due to my love for Christmas, but I am also interested in the history of other special days on the calendar. I feel like society often pushes aside the meaning of holidays and looks at them simply as a day off from their job or as a reason to frivolously spend money. Don’t misunderstand…I am not anti-frivolity. Fireworks on Independence Day, costume parties & trick-or-treating on Halloween, football & cheesy parades on Thanksgiving, Christmas presents & eggnog…it’s all good. But we should always remember that there is a reason…usually a profound & significant one…that these became widely recognized annual celebrations in the first place.
Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. It is my least favorite holiday, as it likely is for many single individuals. When most people think of Valentine’s Day I am sure certain images come to mind…heart shaped boxes of chocolate, red roses, & those little candy hearts with messages written on them like “Be Mine” or “Kiss Me”. Is Valentine’s Day just a conspiracy from Big Candy and the Flower Mafia designed to guilt married people into buying their products and drive the lonely & unattached into a bottomless pit of despair?? Surely there is more.
First things first…
There was indeed a Saint Valentine. He is an obscure priest known to have lived in the 3rd century and been martyred in Rome. That’s pretty much all that is known. There may have even been more than one Saint Valentine, but that just adds to the confusion.
So why is there a holiday dedicated to a guy that we know virtually nothing about?? While Saint Valentine was indeed real, the holiday dedicated in his honor seems to be built on a foundation of legends & folklore. Some stories indicate that he was imprisoned for giving assistance to Christians who were, at the time, being persecuted in Rome, and also performing marriage ceremonies for soldiers (who were forbidden from getting married). It is said that while in prison Saint Valentine healed his jailer’s blind daughter and converted the man himself to Christianity. Valentine was then beheaded by order of Emperor Claudius because he refused to deny Christ, but before his death he left a goodbye note for the formerly blind girl and signed it “Your Valentine”. No one knows if any of these things actually occurred, but it makes a great story.
The Feast of Saint Valentine was initially began by Pope Gelasius in the 5th century. It is believed to have been placed in mid-February to Christianize a pagan fertility feast called lupercalia, aka the Wolf Festival, named in honor of Lupa, a female wolf who was said to have suckled the twin infants Romulus & Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. The month of February itself comes from the term februum, which means purification. Romans believed that birds chose their mate in February.
Things got a bit of a boost during The Middle Ages, which lasted from the 5th to the 15th centuries, but in this case we’re probably looking at around the 12th century when things like chivalry & love became somewhat of a pop culture sensation. Author & poet Geoffrey Chaucer made a big contribution to the Valentine tradition with his poem Parliament of Fowls, which was written to celebrate the nuptials of two 15 year old kids…England’s King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. Twelve years later Anne died from the plague and Richard II became nuttier than a fruitcake, but at the time of their marriage they were the Middle Ages equivalent of Brangelina, Kimye, or Jay-Z & Beyonce. At any rate, in Chaucer’s poem he writes:
For this was on Saint Valentine’s day
When every fowl comes there his mate to take
Of every species that men know, I say
And then so huge a crowd did they make
That earth and sea, and tree, and every lake
Was so full, that there was scarcely space
For me to stand, so full was all the place
And as Alain, in his Complaint of Nature
Describes her array and paints her face
In such array might men there find her
So this noble Empress, full of grace
Bade every fowl to take its proper place
As they were wont to do from year to year
On Saint Valentine’s day, standing there
You know that on Saint Valentine’s day
By my statute and through my governance,
You come to choose and then fly your way
Your mates, as I your desires enhance
But nonetheless my rightful ordinance
I may not alter, for all the world to win
That he that is most worthy must begin
Saint Valentine, who art full high aloft
Thus sing the small fowls for your sake
Now welcome summer, with your sun soft
That this winter’s weather does off-shake
In 18th century England Valentine’s Day began to resemble the holiday that we all know. It became common to exchange Valentine cards & candy with one’s sweetheart. You can easily fill in the blanks as far as the rest of the holiday’s evolution.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated worldwide, but it is interesting that its religious origins have been minimized to the point that most don’t even realize that there was a real Valentine, that he was a priest, and that he was martyred for spreading the gospel and refusing to deny his Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. Only the Anglican & Lutheran churches retain any semblance of the day’s sacred significance. So enjoy your chocolates, flowers, & dinner with your spouse, life mate, mistress, boy toy, or “friend with benefits”. I am sure many will celebrate by heading to the cinema to see the romantic blockbuster Fifty Shades of Grey. Like I said, frivolity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But also take a moment to appreciate the real reason for the season.