Love is in the air. If you’re in a part of the world that celebrates Valentine’s Day then you most likely can feel it. Whether you anticipate the day with joy or dread, this yearly celebration marks the time for chocolate and roses and heart-shaped cards, all in the name of love. But where did the tradition come from?
In this week’s episode of “Holy Facts” on The Chopra Well, Gotham Chopra explores some unusual expressions of love across cultures, including the murky origins of the biggest contemporary love celebration in the west: Valentine’s Day. Named after at least one of three early Christian martyrs by the same name, this day has come to signify something very different than what it originally may have been.
The Saint Valentine most likely connected with the holiday was a priest in the 3rd century Roman Empire. Emperor Claudius II had outlawed marriage for young men, believing that unmarried men made better soldiers than those with wives and children. Valentine – still in the minority at this point as a Christian priest – felt the injustice of the decree and continued performing marriages for young lovers in secret. He was soon discovered, though, and executed for his disobedience. To add insult to injury, it was also rumored that he tried to convert Claudius to Christianity during his interrogation.
The placement of Valentine’s Day in the middle of February may be associated to the anniversary of Saint Valentine’s execution. But many believe the Christian church established Valentine’s Day in order to “Christianize” an early Roman pagan festival, Lupercalia, which was celebrated at the Ides of February. In this bloody fertility festival, men would sacrifice a dog and a goat, then strip the goats’ hides and use them to gently slap the women. Women apparently lined up for this yearly hide whipping, believing it would increase their fertility in the upcoming year. The day ended with a random pairing of couples to…well, test the magical strength of the goat hides.
Once “Christianized”, and with the help of authors like Chaucer and Shakespeare, Valentine’s Day became more of a celebration of romance, exchanging animal sacrifice for letter writing, whips for poetry and chocolate. Sounds like a healthy evolution. Today, Valentine’s Day sales approach close to $20 billion, what with the candy, roses and a bit of expensive jewelry thrown in the mix. Love itself, however, is free. And nothing says “I love you” better than a homemade card and a big hug.
How are you planning on celebrating Valentine’s Day? Let us know in the comments section below!
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