Valentine’s Day

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By: Danielle O’Dwyer

February the 14th is Valentine’s Day (which is also known as Saint Valentine’s Day), when lovers express their true feelings for each other. Valentine customs have developed over time to include the exchange of greetings and gifts of flowers and chocolates. But is Valentine’s Day just a really long day for florists and a way to sell more chocolate, cards and jewellery? Or is there more to Valentine’s Day?

People have celebrated Valentine’s Day with thoughts towards love since at least the 1300’s – according to an old European legend the 14th of February is the day when birds pair off each year to start their families. In ancient Rome the Festival of the Lupercalia was also celebrated in mid-February. This festival celebrated the coming of spring and included fertility rites and the pairing off of women with men by lottery, and at the end of the 5th century Pope Gelasius I replaced Lupercalia with St Valentine’s Day.

There are those who believe that Valentine’s Day acquired its name from the Roman Catholic Church which honours two saints named Valentine on the 14th of February. Both Saint Valentines were Romans who lived in the A.D 200’s and died for their Christian faith. There were also several other Christian martyrs named Valentine but the day probably took its name from a priest who was martyred around about 270 A.D by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus. According to legend the priest signed a letter to his jailers daughter, who had befriended him and with whom he had also fallen in love with, “from your Valentine”. There are those who say that the day has no apparent connection with the martyred Saint Valentines of 3rd-century Rome except that their feast days are also celebrated on the 14th of February. There are also religions groups that won’t take part in Valentine’s Day because they see it as a Christian event that goes against their own faith.

Valentine’s Day came to be celebrated as a day of romance from about the 14th century onwards. This century saw the start of a tradition that was similar to the lottery that was held during the Roman Lupercalia Festival. Young people in countries like France and England would get together on St Valentine’s Eve, each person would place their name in a box called the ‘Valentine box,’ one person would draw out the names of two people from the box and they became ‘Valentine’s’ for the following day. The pair would then spend Valentine’s Day together in hopes that love would blossom leading eventually to marriage. Valentine’s messages may have also been influenced by the legend of the priest back in 270 A.D because formal Valentines message started appearing in the 1500’s and by the late 1700’s were on commercially printed cards. Valentines from the 1800’s onwards commonly depicted Cupid, the Roman god of love, along with hearts, the traditional symbol for love, and pairs of birds that represented couples.

Not every Valentine’s Day has been a hearts and flowers event though, there has been at least one day in Valentine history that harks back to the violent events that happened in the early centuries. In America during the Prohibition Era, which came into force in January 1920 and ended in December 1933, it was illegal to transport or sell alcoholic beverages. The law also resulted in the rise of criminal gangs ready to make money off the public demand for the now illegal alcohol. One of the most well known gang leaders of this time was Al Capone, and on February 14th 1929 in Chicago, members of Capone’s gang posing as police officers entered a rival’s garage, lined everyone up against the wall and shot them. These men were no saints but they did lose their lives. This event would become known as the ‘Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre’.

Despite the commercial aspect and the cynicism that has developed over the years regarding Valentine’s Day and even though Valentine’s Day may have been named after a Christian martyr, making it a day not all religions will take part in, it’s still good to have a day that acknowledges positive feelings like love. I think that is what we should really focus on. So on Valentine’s Day let someone know that you really do care about them.

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