Saints, Sacrifice and Sweethearts

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short non-fiction article on the history of Valentines day.

Submitted: February 02, 2016

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Submitted: February 02, 2016

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Saints, Sacrifice and Sweethearts -

The Story of Valentine’s Day.

 

February 14th is the day that traditionally, gifts, cards and flowers are sent to a person one loves or is attracted to. The romantics among us take the opportunity to splash the cash on a whole manner of objects with love hearts on. And what a whopping amount of cash that is. It was estimated that last year in Great Britain, you ‘ole romantics’ spent close to £1 billion on Valentines paraphernalia, including nights out, candlelit dinners and hotel stays. Other, perhaps, less sentimental people, wonders what all the fuss is about. Why do we need one day to tell our nearest and dearest we love them? Is presenting them with an overpriced teddy bear with ‘I wuv u’ on it really a true representation of how we feel about someone? And why is the image of cupid a fat flying baby brandishing a lethal weapon?

 

So what are the origins of this romantic day? There are quite a few theories and legends. Most of the early stories are exactly that, but they are very appealing and a little ‘fairytale like’ so are worth mentioning if only for the ‘ahh’ factor. One of them dates back to as early as 270 AD, when the Roman Emperor - Claudius II, forbade single men to marry as he believed they made better soldiers. A Christian - Valentine of Rome is said to have secretly married young couples and therefore became their patron saint. In addition to this story, it is thought that St Valentine was arrested and sent to jail for his beliefs and actions. Whilst imprisoned and awaiting execution, he supposedly cured the jailors daughter of blindness and the night before he met his fate, he wrote a farewell letter to the daughter, signing it ‘from your Valentine’. Bless him! He was apparently beheaded on the 14th February, hence the significance of the date - which is convenient but unlikely.

 

The ancient Roman festival Lupercalia also needs a mention as this was a fertility celebration observed annually on the 15th February. During this celebration a dog or goat would be sacrificed, their skin cut into strips and used as whips so the men could lash the women’s backsides to improve their fertility! In around 496 AD, in the rise of Christianity, Pope Gelasius turned it into a Christian feast day, changing the date to 14th February in honour of St Valentine. Much more civilised!

 

So that’s how the day got its name, but what about the romance? It was actually the poet Geoffrey Chaucer who has been accredited by some, as being the ‘man’ in romance. His poem written around 1382 was in honour of the engagement of King Richard the II to Anne of Bohemia. ‘Parlement of Foules’ has the line,

“For this was on seynt Valentynes day when every foul cometh ther to choose a mate” Loosely translated as birds looking for a mate around the time of Valentines Day. Some may argue that this would have been too early for birds to be nesting, but back in the middle ages with the use of different calendars, it’s quite possible the weather would have been warm enough for the little love birds. It was due to romantic poets like Chaucer and Shakespeare that Valentines grew in popularity around this time. In fact, one of the earliest Valentines notes was sent in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife during his imprisonment in the Tower of London.

 

The popularity of Valentine’s day remained constant during the 18th and 19th centuries, where little love notes were given, perhaps inspired by the book ’The Young Man’s Valentine Writer’ published in 1797. These hand written notes, delicately embellished with lace, then progressed on to mass produced cards during the Victorian era.

 

The cynical may say this where the romance and sentimentality disappears from Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s true; nowadays, everyone is a potential recipient of a delightful memento; lover, parent, children, teacher, cat, dog, it really is nondescript; isn’t that marvellous?!

 

So how will you be spending this 14th February? Many will be spending hard earned pennies on flowers that were half the price on the day before and probably the day after, chocolates that cost more because they’re in a heart shaped box and little nik naks that have no other use except collecting dust. Others will be spending it alone with self-gifted chocolates a bottle of vino and Bridget Jones on DVD. And a few may even be spending it the way the ancient Romans did!


© Copyright 2020 Nicola Macbeth. All rights reserved.

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