Aww, it’s that time of year again! For lovers and couples everywhere to celebrate their love for each other. They do so by plunking down hundreds of dollars for candy that will be eaten within the week, flowers that will die in days, cards produced in factories that will be read once and thrown away, and clothes that will be worn once a year. Isn’t that romantic?
But why is it February 14? Every year mid-February, we celebrate this holiday of lovers, without batting an eye as to why. Many believe that it is because St. Valentine was executed on Feb. 14, in 269 AD, for refusing to obey the emperor’s edict outlawing marriages. While the day indeed marks “St. Valentine’s Day” in Catholicism, the story behind it is just that: a story. “In 1969, The Catholic church revised its liturgical calendar, removing the feast days of saints whose historical origins were questionable. St. Valentine was one of the casualties.”
The truth is, no one knows how St. Valentine’s Day became celebrated for love, although there are some compelling theories. Chaucer famously wrote in 1382 how Valentine’s Day was when every bird sought its mate. The poem was written for the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. Unfortunately for this legend, the two were engaged on May 2, not Feb 14. Furthermore, May 2 is much more likely to be a date when birds mate, as opposed to mid February.
No, Valentine’s Day most likely gets its roots far further back in history; to Roman times (what a surprise). On Feb 15 every year, the Romans celebrated the Feast of Lupercalia, in honor of the wolf that raised Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. One of the many customs of the festival involved a lottery of sorts, in which the names of available maidens were placed in a box. They were subsequently drawn out by the young men who participated. They would then spend the remainder of the festival with their choice, often longer (some ended in marriage).
In 496 AD, the Catholic Church wanted to put an end to the pagan practice, so they decided to use the day to celebrate the feast of St. Valentine, “the patron saint of love.” The actual customs involved in the celebration have obviously varied over the years, but it’s widely agreed upon that the Romans were the first to celebrate this holiday. And to be perfectly honest, it’s beginning to scare me how often that last sentence can be repeated.