There are several of theories about the beginnings of St. Valentine’s Day. Some believe that Valentine’s Day was celebrated to commemorate the death and burial of Valentine, a priest or bishop living in the third century after Christ. Valentine had an affinity for young people and during a time when Emperor Claudius II had banned marriage due to the Roman Empires need for soldiers, the priest married young lovers in secret. He was arrested and executed on February 14. When he was buried, a pink almond tree near his grave blossomed as a symbol of his lasting love. Another belief is that while Valentine was imprisoned, he fell in love with the jailer’s blind daughter. On the morning of his beheading, he sent his love a farewell letter signed “From your Valentine”. Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.
Some historians believe Valentine’s Day stems from an ancient pagan festival known as Lupercalia. To begin this festival, at the official beginning of Spring–February 15–a group of Roman priests known as the Luperci gathered at the cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were said to have been raised by a she-wolf, lupa. The priest sacrificed a dog for purification and then a goat for fertility. Houses in the village were cleansed by sweeping followed by sprinkling salt and wheat throughout each home as an act of purification. The boys in the village would take slices of the sacrificed goat hide dipped in the goats blood through the village gently slapping the women of the village and the field of crops. This was welcomed as an act of encouraging fertility. The names of all single women were put into a large urn and the bachelors of the village would choose a name from the urn. They couples would be paired for the year, hopefully resulting in marriage later. Some believe that this festival was later “christianized” and the Roman system for romantic pairing off was un-Christian and outlawed. Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day around 498 A.D.
In the Middle ages, the beginning of Spring when birds and animals began to mate, enhanced the idea that February and Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance and lovers.
The oldest known valentine still in existence today is in the British Library in London, England. It is a poem written in 1415, by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.
Traditions & Superstitions Surrounding St. Valentine’s Day
The Birds of Valentine’s Day- One suspicion connected to Valentine’s Day is that the first bird a women sees on the day, would determine the kind of husband she would marry. Below is a list of birds and they’re meanings:
Blackbird – a man of the cloth or religious figure
Dove – a man with a good and generous heart
Goldfinch – a man of wealth, especially if it was a yellow goldfinch
Sparrow – a happy man
Hawk – a brave man, most likely a soldier
Crossbill – a man of bad temper, argumentative
Robin – a man of the sea
Bluebird – a happy man
Owl – a man destined to live a short life
Woodpecker – It is believed the woman will never marry if a woodpecker is the first bird she sees on Valentine’s Day
England – One early tradition had women eating a hardboiled egg then putting green leaves under their pillow to dream of their husband-to-be. Children threw parties during Victorian times playing games, dancing and exchanging valentines. This tradition grew and is popular among many.
France – On the morning of Valentine’s Day, the first man to be seen by a girl became her boy-friend or “valentine”. Often engagement occurred after a year. Flowers became a popular gift when one of Henry IV’s daughter received a bouquet from her chosen valentine.
Germany – Women would plant onions in pots, giving each a man’s name and placing them near the fireplace. The first sprout onion would be the husband-to-be.
Italy – Cupid is a cherub angel who shoots arrows at people making them fall in love. (From Roman Mythology: The Roman god of love and desire (Eros in Greek mythology). He fell deeply in love with Psyche (a mortal). They married and had a child named Pleasure.) Roman Emperor Claudius II forbad soldiers to become engaged or marry. The priest Valentine secretly married many couples. He was punished on February 14th for his defiance. Youth would gather in places such as a garden to listen to romantic music and poetry. Roman youths would draw the names of a girl from a jar that were to be their partners during Lupercalia (celebration of the wolf).
Scotland – Gifts given in early times were a knot made of ribbon or paper.
USA – Exchanging of gifts and cards are the popular tradition of America. School children enjoy classroom parties exchanging sweethearts. Many marriages occur along with proposals.
Wales – Gifts of carved wooden love spoons were exchanged. People decorated with hearts, keys and keyholes. The person who received a key was said to be able to unlock the givers heart.