It’s coming up you know. Which got us thinking – how did Valentine’s Day even become a thing?
It turns out that there’s no definitive answer to this question – much like the origins of Halloween (which we looked into here). There’s even some doubt as to which Valentine is referred to, as there were a number of Christian martyrs with this name who lived during the Roman Empire before it converted to Christianity.
The most popular and/or likely story is that of a (Christian) priest called Valentine who was based in Rome during the third century. According to this story he defied a law forbidding young men from marrying – a law instituted by Emperor Claudius II as he thought single men made better soldiers. Valentine was arrested for marrying young lovers in secret. Hauled up before the emperor he refused to convert to Roman paganism, and – as the story goes – instead tried to convert the emperor to Christianity. This unfortunately didn’t work and he was executed on… 14th February.
After the adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire, he became a saint and a Feast Day was announced by the church on this day.
One theory holds that Valentine’s Day was in reality the adoption of a Roman festival called Lupercalia (which quite coincidentally was also celebrated in mid February) where young men would draw names of young women from a box, with whom they would be paired during the festival. These were not arranged marriages as such (more like blind dates) but some marriages did result. Pagan festivals were often adopted by the church, which was much easier than trying to ban them (see Halloween again).
One part of the story which seems to have been continued through the ages is the tradition of giving Valentine’s cards – St Valentine is said to have passed a note to his jailer’s daughter before he was executed, which he signed ‘from your Valentine’.
During the Middle Ages there wasn’t a lot of ‘romantic love’ around, instead there was ‘chivalry’ on the part of knights who went off to wars/the Crusades on behalf of the ladies they left behind – this was a notion called ‘courtly love’ which is quite hard to understand in a modern context – maybe viewing a few early episodes of Blackadder might help (or not).
Very gradually, as feudalism faded away, Valentine’s Day didn’t need any chivalry involved and it became a day to express romantic love and, by the 1800s, spurred by the availability of modern printing presses, some enterprising people realised there was a market for printed Valentines cards, and here we are!
It’s fair to say that florists rely quite heavily on February being a good month, as do chocolatiers and of course Hallmark, but sometimes it’s worth thinking outside the box (no pun intended) for gift ideas.
Some interesting/out there ideas we’ve come across on the interwebs include…
- renting a puppy or kitten (if you can’t have a pet full time for any reason – not sure how that would work though)
- getting a chef in to cook up a storm for you at home instead of going out to eat
- ordering in a gourmet Valentine’s Dinner so you don’t have to do the cooking or washing up (we know of at least one establishment in Brisbane that offers this!)
- having a Valentine’s Day gift delivered (eg at work)
- giving a chocolate bouquet instead of flowers (yes, it’s exactly what it says)
- exchanging ‘love spoons’ (popular in Wales)
- writing a short (hopefully) funny poem to your Valentine (popular in Norway and Denmark, where these are called ‘Gaekkebreve’)
- getting the lady to give the man a box of chocolates, not the other way round (Japan)
- adopting a hissing cockroach, a naked mole-rat or a turkey vulture as a gift (easier if you live in Decatur Illinois in the US of A – see below)
The perhaps surprising fact revealed in surveys is that celebrating Valentine’s Day is more important to men than women – 68% of men said they would be disappointed not to celebrate the day compared to 51% of women. More women send Valentine’s cards though!
And if for any reason you’d prefer to be somewhere else during February here are a few options…
Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran – Valentine’s Day celebrations (by giving flowers, cards or other gifts on the day) are banned.
FYI the name Valentine comes from the Latin name Valentinus, in turn derived from the Latin word ‘valens’ meaning ‘strong and healthy’
Main Image Credit: https://wellcomecollection.org/works/sw3xfmgf