This is a blast from the past- an old Single on the Seacoast article (draft, at least) that I have saved. This one was written in 2010.
My Valentine to You
This week, I’ve decided that instead of giving you suggestions about how to spend your Valentine’s Day, or speculating what my own will be like, I’ll give you a little history lesson. I’m doing this for two reasons. One, everybody loves unasked for history lessons. And two, I’m a giver.
In order to answer my burning question, “What the heck is Valentine’s Day?” I turned to my trusted resource, the Internet. And the Internet, the wise entity that it is, basically answered my question with a great big shrug. There’s no good answer, readers. What there is, is speculation and theory.
Most likely, Valentine’s day was decreed in order to bring some Christianity to Ancient Rome. According to the History Channel’s Website, history.com, the Ancient Roman’s had a festival called Lupercalia, which honored either the agriculture/ fertility god Faunus, the legendary Roman founders Romulus and Remus, or all three. Romulus and Remus were said to have been suckled by a she-wolf, or “lupa,” hence the name. So, in order to show their appreciation of having their very own city, and in order to persuade Faunus to be nice and give them babies, the Romans would sacrifice a goat, slice the skin into strips, and then run around, gently wapping women with the hides to make them fertile. (And the women LIKED this.) Then, apparently, the single ladies would throw their names into an urn and bachelors would reach in and select their mate for a year. Kind of like a 70’s key party, but not. These unions often ended in marriage.
Conveniently, all of this crazy stuff happened on the ides of February—AKA, February 13th.
Around 498 A.D, Pope Gelasius apparently decided that this whole “lottery” system was no longer acceptable, and had it outlawed. He also ordered February 14th to be called “Saint Valentine’s Day,” although the reason for this is also unclear.
There are several saints called Valentine, though only one has a little romance woven into his legend. The most popular version of this story claims that, sometime in the third Century, Roman Emperor Claudius II declared marriage illegal in order to have a more focused army (as if not having wives would make his men NOT think of sex every second seconds—Nice try, Claud.) A rebellious priest named Valentine, ever the romantic, thought this was crap and married people in secret. When Claudius found out, he was none to pleased and sentenced Valentine to death. Some say the couples he united would bring notes and flowers to his cell to thank him for giving up his life so they could have a little nookie.
Others say the story continues—apparently, Father Valentine fell in love with someone, possibly, scandalously, the jailer’s daughter, and slipped his beloved a note before his execution. The note was signed, “From Your Valentine.” Awwwww.
Fast forward 1500 years or so. Although exchanging valentines became popular in the 1800’s, the holiday became more and more secular. When the Roman Catholic church revised their calendar, they dropped St Valentine’s day and left it up to local or national calendars because, “Though the memorial of St. Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14th.” And honestly? From what I’ve read, I’m not convinced the church really even knows THAT for sure.
So there you go. From what I can gather, we celebrate Valentine’s Day because some people disagreed about the merits of orgies, marriage, and the purpose of goats, and because, in the end, we all really like the idea of love.
Next week, I’ll tell you the origins of Cupid (SO much more than a baby with wings) and detail my quest into discovering why the heart means love (although, in some places, it means “behind” and is used on restroom doors.) Then V-day will REALLY be over and we can get back to dissecting the love lives of me and those around me.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
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