To some it’s the most commercialized holiday of the year. To others it’s known as the most romantic day of the year. But why exactly do we celebrate Valentine’s Day? And why is it on February 14th?
Valentine’s Day is actually thought to have originated from the Romans. A fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, was held on February 15th. During the festival, boys would draw the names of girls from a box. The pair would then be partners during the festival. These matches often led to marriage.
Though the festival survived the initial rise of Christianity, it was outlawed by the end of the 5th century when Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as St Valentine’s Day.
Geoffrey Chaucer (Canterbury Tales) may have actually been behind Valentine’s Day. Prior to his 1375 poem, there is no record of Valentine’s Day. Chaucer took many liberties with history, and often dropped his fictional characters into real historic events, thus leaving the readers wondering how the events really happened.
But who exactly is St Valentine?
The saint officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church was a real person who died around 270 AD. He has been described as a priest who was beheaded by Emperor Claudius II for helping Christian couples marry. The emperor, believing that single men made better soldiers, had banned marriage. Valentine felt this was unfair and held marriages in secret. When the emperor found out Valentine was thrown in jail and sentenced to death.
He also may have been Bishop of Terni, also martyred by Claudius II. There are many similarities between the priest’s and bishop’s stories. This has lead many historians to believe that the two are actually the same man.
What does St Valentine have to do with love?
Valentine is the patron saint of beekeepers, epilepsy, the plague, fainting and traveling. None of those sound overly romantic. He did help couples marry in secret, which is arguably very romantic. He is now also known as the patron of engaged couples and happy marriages.
But why do we give Valentine’s cards?
It is believed that while in prison he sent a letter to a young girl he had fallen in love with. He signed the letter “From your Valentine”.