By: Anna Cernohous
Happy Valentine’s Day! In this day and age, most people associate the holiday with chocolate, hearts, love, roses, gifts, and so on. It wasn’t always that way. The origin story has been recounted in different ways and has a level of mystery that makes the holiday that much more interesting to celebrate. Some would say that finding the true origin of Valentine’s Day is as hard as finding love itself…anyways!
Who is Saint Valentine? And why is he associated with the holiday?
Under the Catholic church, there are multiple saints that share the name Valentine or Valentinus (history.com). Generally, Saint Valentine was killed for either helping Christians escape Roman prisons or for falling in love in a time of war where young men were not allowed to get married (history.com). Either way, Saint Valentine “fell in love in a hopeless place” as Rihanna once sang. He would write letters to his lover that were signed with “From your Valentine” at the bottom which is where we got the phrase that we use to this day!
Why February 14th?
Some believe this date was selected to memorialize Saint Valentine on the day he died around 270 A.D. while others believe it was to overtake a pagan holiday that is celebrated mid-February.
Side note: the pagen holiday is called Lupercalia where “men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.” The women would line up to do this because they believe that it would “make them fertile” (npr.com).
When Pope Gelasius declared this new holiday, it was not associated with love but grew in the connection during the middle ages (history.com).
Why is there a cherub named Cupid?
Cupid represents the Greek god of love, Eros (history.com). According to greek archaic poets, Eros would use “golden arrows to incite love and leaden ones to sow aversion” (history.com).
Back to today.
Like many other holidays, Valentine’s Day has become extremely commercialized and has lost much of the initial value found in Paganism and Christianity. Granted, most people probably don’t want to be whipped by a freshly slain animal…
For an in-depth look at the branches of the holiday’s origin story, check out the links below!
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