History of Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is celebrated on the 14th of February all over the world. It is the day when you express your love. The history of this day, however, says a story of its own. Let us go a few centuries back to where it all began.
'Another Valentine'

Today we are obliged to be romantic
And think of yet another valentine.
We know the rules and we are both pedantic:
Today's the day we have to be romantic.
Our love is old and sure, not new and frantic.
You know I'm yours and I know you are mine.
And saying that has made me feel romantic,
My dearest love, my darling valentine
- Wendy Cope

Through the years, the day of Valentine has seen a lot. From ancient martyrs to modern-day romantics, Valentine's Day has always been an eventful day for most. As we passionately give gifts, or wait for them, let us delve a little deeper and find out the history behind this day of love.

There has always been a big confusion as to who exactly was St. Valentine. History talks about three people, the Roman saint Valentine who was a bishop, Valentine of Terni, and Valentine of Alexandria who is better known as Valentinus, who were martyred on the very day (i.e., 14th February) for committing the sin of 'spreading love'.

St. Valentine - The Man Behind it

In the 3rd century, Emperor Claudius II reined over Rome. It is known that he detested the idea of love and family. Marriage was made illegal for young soldiers. Saint Valentine, at this point, came to their rescue and helped them to marry in secret. The secret came out with the result that he was imprisoned, tortured, and later put to death for committing the crime.

While he was in jail, it is said that the noble saint turned to Christianity, which was also a deathly crime at that time. He guided many men in distress through the path of Christianity and enlightened them with his knowledge. It is also said that the saint fell in love with the daughter of the jailer. Apparently, she visited him every day in jail and he wrote a letter to her signing, 'from your Valentine'. This signed note came to be known as the first Valentine's Day greetings. This entire aspect of defiance for love connects the history of Saint Valentine to bravery or 'valor'.

A similar story revolves around the 'Valentine of Terni'. It is said that he was devoted to the cause of spreading the message of love and forgiveness among people, and is known to have mystical powers. He could heal wounds and cure incurable diseases miraculously. He was considered the messenger of God. However, at that time, Christianity was not an accepted religion and Christians were prosecuted. Hence, this saintly man was beheaded for his faith and beliefs.

Valentinus on the other hand, believed in spiritual love. He said that there are three kinds of people, spiritual, psychical, and material, and those who were of the first kind (i.e., spiritual) were blessed with the knowledge (or gnosis). Therefore, spirituality can alone lead a man to his salvation. He also preached the importance of marriage, however, it clashed with the growing asceticism of Christian thought. There have been churches dedicated to Valentinus and his disciples spread his message of love till date.

Valentine of Terni and Valentinus are known to be buried along the Via Flaminia outside Rome. Many chronicles about the two great saints have been written, which are known as 'Acta'. They discuss the lives of these saints, their strong beliefs, and their unworldly powers.

The Romantic Mien

Initially, the story of Valentine was conveyed verbally in Europe in the 15th century. Charles, the Duke of Orleans, was the person who is recognized to have written 'Valentines' (romantic verses) while he was imprisoned, in 1415. He spent his time by writing romantic poems for his wife. By 16th century, written copies were available. In the early years of its practice, Valentines were hand-made and were prepared using colored paper, watercolors, and colored inks.
  • Perforated Valentines were made by making holes in paper with a pin to look like lace.
  • Cutout Valentines were made by folding paper several times and giving it a lace design with the help of small scissors.
  • Acrostic Valentines were poems written on the cards with the name of the beloved in the first line.
  • Changes were made in the poems by using small pictures to represent some words. These were called Rebus Valentines.
February was always considered the month of love for the obvious reason that it brings with it the end of winter and a promise of the beautiful spring. Also, the love between Zeus and Hera was celebrated by the Greeks during this month. The ancient Romans celebrated 'Lupercalia' (the festival to ward away evil), as the day of love between February 13th and 15th.

The tradition of courtly love was first seen during the age of Geoffrey Chaucer in the Middle Ages. In his 'Parliament of Foules', he honors the love between King Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia. Later, however, this tradition of writing love poetry became a norm as more and more people started believing in romantic love and the importance of St. Valentine's Day grew. Pope Gelasius I declared the feast of Saint Valentine in 496 AD on the 14th of February, however, this feast was later removed in 1969 by Pope Paul VI.

Valentine's Day Today

Valentine's Day became a popular event in England in the 18th century. In the USA, Valentine Day celebrations were a part of the British settlers. Giving gifts and exchanging cards on this day became so popular that the factories got into the mass production of greeting cards. Cards made from ribbons, lace, satin with drawings of cupid, hearts, flowers became more and more popular.

Valentine's Day is celebrated today, not only as a day when lovers express their love for the beloved, but also a day of showing gratitude where children give cards to their parents and friends, and exchange small tokens of love. Modern gifts including diamonds, chocolates, and other expensive items have become a big business. Today's Valentine's Day is such a major celebration that it has almost become a National Holiday. It drives the economic boom for the whole month of February, as consumerism grows every year.

Valentine's Day is a big occasion in itself and the best opportunity for long-suffering young men who seek the love of young maidens. It is said that a woman does not deny a lover on this day, and therefore, it is supposed to be the best day to propose the woman of your dreams. So, if someone is just waiting for the right time to pop the question, it is right now!

An assortment of expensive and versatile gifts are seen flooding the market on this occasion. From general gifts like chocolates, perfumes, jewelry, and flowers to more intimate things like lingerie and other personalized gifts are purchased by people.

A day for the celebration of love is what Valentine is. In the hustle-bustle, we must not forget this small, yet, important fact. A relationship survives on the pillars of love and trust. We celebrate this day to remind ourselves how much we need the people we love and what role they play in our lives. Therefore, let us celebrate this day for those who stood by us through thick and thin, for those who willingly accept us for what we are and for those, who have faith in us.
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