From the archives, one of our few female contributors over the years, Miss Kiss, did research on where Valentine's Day really got much of its meaning and symbolism and explains why we're probably doing it all wrong. This will contrast greatly with the next article where I show what *MY* interpretation of what we should celebrate on Valentine's Day is.
We are now a week into February and as usual, everyone is in their typical uproar over Valentine’s Day. Whether it’s excitement, dread, or scorn everyone can be counted on to express their thoughts on the topic with increasing frequency as V-Day approaches, so I figured I would add my two cents to it all.
I confess in advance to not knowing the exact origins of the holiday, just that it has its’ origins based on Saint Valentine and it was a day in school where everyone passed out cards in class with the current trendy themes.
So I hit the internet to do a little research, and was not surprised that there is considerable debate on the exact origin of what it’s supposed to represent. I’m going to be coming at this from multiple angles so that in the end is going to be left up to your own interpretation, as everything always is and should be.
It seems that while a percentage of us believe Valentine’s Day is a tribute to Saint Valentine who was persecuted as a Christian, right away it is stated that there were three Saint Valentines. Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome who was martyred about AD 269 and was buried on the Via Flaminia, which is an Ancient Roman road that leads through the Apennine Mountain and ends at the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Valentine of Terni became bishop of Modern Terni about AD 197 and is said to have been martyred during the persecution under Emperor Aurelian. He is also buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different location than Valentine of Rome. The Catholic Encyclopedia also speaks of a third saint named Valentine who was mentioned in early martyr history on the day of February 14th. He was martyred in Africa with a number of companions, but nothing more is known about him. No romantic elements are present in the original early medieval biographies of any of these martyrs. By the time a Saint Valentine became linked to romance in the 14th century, distinctions between Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni were utterly lost. So if Valentine’s Day is celebrated in honor of the martyred saint, which one is it? If the distinctions between each one were lost, doesn’t it seem that the celebration is more based on idea than an exact person?
Some people believe that Valentine’s Day pre-dates even this, and is an evolved form of a celebration called Lupercalia which was a very ancient, possibly pre-Roman pastoral festival, observed on February 13th through the 15th to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Originally, this week-long party honored the god Faunus, who watched over shepherds in the hills. The festival also marked the coming of spring. Later on, it became a holiday honoring Romulus and Remus, the twins who founded Rome after being raised by a she-wolf in a cave. Eventually, Lupercalia became a multi-purpose event: it celebrated the fertility of not only the livestock but people as well. Nothing very loving in this ritual either seeing as how to kick off the festivities, an order of priests gathered in front of the sacred cave in which Romulus and Remus were nursed by their wolf-mother and proceeded to sacrifice a dog for purification, and a pair of young male goats for fertility. The hides of the goats were cut into strips, dipped in blood, and taken around the streets of Rome. These bits of hide were touched to both fields and women as a way of encouraging fertility in the coming year. Girls and young women would line up along the road to receive lashes from these whips with the belief that this would increase their fertility. After the priests concluded the fertility rites, young women placed their names in a jar and men drew names in order to choose a partner for the rest of the celebrations, with the option of marriage if the two seemed compatible enough. Isn’t that a romantic thought? I’m sure all modern women love the idea of lining up in the streets to get whipped with bloody strips of sacrificed animals and then dropping their name into a hat so they can participate in mass orgies with the hope that the luck of the draw provides someone who likes them enough to consider marriage.
Most modern women want a Valentine’s card, some flowers, and a nice dinner. But even then, the symbols that we relate to Valentine’s Day really have nothing to do with what we would consider romantic LOVE.
You know Cupid, the cute little baby who flies around shooting people with his bow and arrow to make them fall in love?
In Ancient Greece, Cupid was originally the God of Love; Eros. He was depicted as a strong and powerful young man but the Greeks had three separate categories of accepted physical expressions of love; regular intercourse between a man and woman, homoerotic love, and pederasty- which by definition is a relationship between a man and young boy. Ancient Greeks thought it was normal to be drawn to the beauty of adolescent boys just as they were drawn to women, and homosexuality was considered part of coming of age. So how did Eros, the athletic young man in art and literature, become a flying boy named Cupid? As time passed he became younger and younger until Hellenistic times when he was portrayed as a child or baby with a bow and arrow. When Romans created their god, they took the Greek’s version and named him Cupid. Creepy, right?
That fancy bouquet of long stemmed roses that is considered a classic gift to your lady on Valentine’s Day? Giving a gift of flowers wasn’t always an act of showing affection, it originated in prehistoric times when flowers were used for their medicinal and herbal attributes. It was considered a great gift to exchange flowers that were uncommon to specific areas since it allowed people to create medicines and salves that wouldn’t otherwise be available to them. Just another item used for barter, because people back then had no use for ripping vegetation out of the ground just because it was aesthetically pleasing.
Every lady loves to be taken out to a fancy, expensive dinner; often choosing Valentine’s Day to splurge on that succulent lobster.
Did you know that when the first settlers migrated to the US that there was such an abundance of lobster along the coast that the colonists actually used them primarily as fertilizer for their crops or as bait for their fish hooks? As far as actually eating it was concerned, lobster was considered little more than “poverty food,” fit only for feeding indentured servants, slaves, children and cows. In fact lobster was once referred to as the “cockroach of the sea,” which should show you how disgusting it really was.
I asked my own daughter what her understanding of Valentine’s Day was and her answer was that it is the day when people in class receive lollipops from their classmates. Each lollipop costs $1 and whoever has acquired the most lollipops by the end of the day is considered the most likeable person.
So by current 8th grade standards, Valentine’s Day is considered a popularity contest. Her understanding of its meaning isn’t the same as what mine was at her age. My interpretation of it is different than what my mother’s was of it. And so on and so, whatever it’s true origin was based on, it has long since lost its true purpose the same way a story changes by small degrees every time it gets repeated. Due to no real means of record keeping as well as different generations of interpretation, none of us will ever know the original meaning of Valentine’s Day. So we choose what we want it to mean for ourselves. Whether it be a day to celebrate the love for a spouse, an opportunity to give tokens of love and friendship to those close to us, or an excuse to treat ourselves to something we wouldn’t ordinarily do; it can mean as much or as little as we decide it should. And that is the way it should be.