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The Quite Unexpected History of Valentine’s Day

Micahrae Osteria, Features Editor

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When you think of Valentine’s Day, you might think of little baby Cupid with his bow and arrow, or maybe expensive jewelry and incredibly fancy dinner dates. It’s undeniable that the annual holiday has changed through the decades, but you’d probably be surprised to find out how this romantic day originated.

   The Valentine’s Day we know today is considerably different than the way it was first celebrated during the reign of the Roman Empire. According to the History Channel website, St. Valentine’s Feast Day (a festival combined with pagan rituals under Pope Gelasius I) was thought to have been celebrated in the middle days of February — similar to the date we know now as February 14 (history.com).

   St. Valentine’s Feast Day was an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to the Faunus, Roman god of agriculture, as well as to Roman founders, Remus and Romulus. Priests would sacrifice goats and dogs, before stripping the hide from them and using it to slap both women and crop fields. It was thought that by beating the women (and the fields), it would help make them fertile and ready to bear children.  It was also thought to help them find husbands.

   It’s crazy to think that Valentine’s Day could ever originate from something as ridiculous and unsettling as this, but it’s true. “That’s a total twist compared to how it’s seen today,” said Senior Bianca Sereno.

   In stark contrast to how it’s celebrated today, St. Valentine’s feast day was nothing more than a celebration amongst large groups of people. If they were lucky, women could potentially find  husbands at this festival. It wasn’t until the fifth century that Pope Gelasius officially declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day. It was also around this time that Valentine’s Day became more intimate. It started becoming not so much a social gathering, but a day dedicated to more personal passion and adoration.

   According to the official website for National Public Radio, some scholars believe that medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to tie romantic feelings to the Valentine tradition (npr.org). Around 1415, the Duke of Orleans, Charles, sent the first recorded love letter to his sweetheart, Bonne of Armagnac. According to an account from the 1400s, Saint Valentine was beheaded by Emperor Claudius II for helping Christian couples wed. Others claim that Valentine was the Bishop of Terni, and was killed by Claudius I near Rome as well (history.com).

   Acts in the name of love are still a big part of Valentine’s Day. Whether it is a card, a first date or an old married couple reminding each other that they still care, there’s something magical about this renowned day of love.“Valentine’s Day is the one day dedicated to making your significant other feel special,” said Senior Jasmine Cruz.

   Nowadays, the way that Valentine’s Day is generally celebrated is through gifts and symbols of love. Bouquets of flowers, along with letters and chocolates, are often gifted to an individual’s significant other. Hearts, red roses, and Cupids are also heavily associated with the day.

   Valentine’s Day isn’t just limited to purely romantic feelings though. You can also spend it with friends whom you care for or exchange Valentine’s grams with classmates. Whatever the case may be, Valentine’s Day, despite all of its changes, is still a holiday that is popularly celebrated today. Not only is it the most romantic, but it’s also one of the most thoughtful and sweetest days of the year.

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The Quite Unexpected History of Valentine’s Day