Columns / Discourse / February 16, 2011

Did You Know: Valentine’s Day

What do you think when you think of Valentine’s Day? Roses, bouquets, chocolates, teddy bears, hearts and couples galore. But was it always like this? Most people know about St. Valentine, but the way the United States “westernized” the holiday has given it a bad name to some countries, such as Iran, India, and Pakistan. Iran bans all things that symbolize Valentine’s Day in an attempt to stop the spread of Western culture. India and Pakistan see this holiday as a sign of shame and lust, where the Westerners satisfy their “sex thirst.” That’s harsh, Easterners. Love and appreciation!

In medieval times, the popular belief that birds chose their mates on Feb.14 made doves in particular a favorite symbol for Valentine’s cards. Why they picked Feb. 14 to choose their mates beats me, but the dove was sacred to Venus and was known for choosing a lifelong mate. Hence, turtledoves coincide with everlasting love.

Here’s another fact you might not have known. In 1936, Valentine’s Day was introduced in Japan, but because of a translation error made by a chocolate company, it’s the women who give the gifts of chocolate to their husbands, boyfriends, and friends. It’s the only day of the year that many women will reveal their crushes by giving them chocolate. On March 14, known as White Day, when the men return the favor.

Another interesting fact comes from Rome. An ancient Roman festival Lupercalia is considered to be the precursor to Valentine’s Day. It was celebrated from Feb. 13-15, and it was a purification and fertility ceremony. Similar to the modern day exchange of love notes, boys would draw a girl’s name from the box on the eve of the festival and escort her to the festival the next day. Some scholars also say that she would be his sexual partner for the year.

During the festival, boys would also run through crowds of people swinging strings made of goatskins. If the string touched the girl, it was divined that she would have healthy children when she grew up. The goatskins are called februa, which means to clean, and is where the name “February” comes from. Those Romans! They were so influential.

Most people are aware that it was St. Valentine that influenced Valentine’s Day. However, there is no accepted explanation for the connection between St. Valentine and love. There are speculations, however. Two of the eight St. Valentine’s throughout history, St. Valentine of Rome and St. Valentine of Terni, are said to have influenced the holiday, though there are speculations that they may be the same person.

St. Valentine of Terni was a priest who would marry Roman soldiers against the orders of Claudius II. He was arrested and killed on Feb. 14 in the year 269 A.D. On that day, it was said that an almond tree near his grave burst with pink flowers and all the birds chose mates, creating the term “lovebirds.”

St. Valentine of Rome was another priest who refused to follow Claudius II’s ban against Christianity. In prison, he would receive notes from children through his jail window. Before he was killed on Feb. 14, he wrote a last note to the jailer’s daughter, whom he had fallen in love with. He had signed it, “From Your Valentine.” Romantic, don’t you think?

And though Valentine’s Day has already ended, a kiss on Valentine’s Day is considered to bring good luck all year. So, maybe a kiss a few days late wouldn’t hurt? Happy belated Valentine’s Day!

Emily Park

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