History of Valentine’s Day, and more
February 14th marks a special day across the world: candle lit dinners and chocolates are savoured; flowers and gifts are exchanged; romance is in the air – all in the name of St. Valentine.Who was he, or rather, who were they? Over centuries, it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction however several saints named Valentine or Valentinus (from the Latin word meaning ‘worthy, strong or powerful’) have been recognised by the Catholic Church and honoured on February 14th each year.
The most written about is Valentine of Rome: a priest who was imprisoned and tortured for aiding persecuted Christians around AD 496. Legend has it that, prior to his execution he performed a miracle by healing the blind daughter of his jailer Asterius. As a parting gesture he addressed a ‘valentine’ card to daughter signing it “from your Valentine”, an expression that has been adopted in modern times.
His charge? As the story goes, Saint Valentine performed secret Christian weddings for soldiers forbidden to marry (the Roman Emperor Claudius II prohibited the marriage of young people believing unmarried men made for better soldiers). As a concession, allegedly, the emperor encouraged ‘temporary coupling’ whereby during Lupercalia, an ancient Roman fertility festival, men drew names to determine who would be their lady love interest for the year. The man would wear her name on his sleeve for the rest of the festival — the origin of the term ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’ perhaps?
Whoever he was, Valentine did exist. Archaeologists unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to St. Valentine and, in 496 AD, the Pope marked February 14th as a celebration in his honour.
Not only is St. Valentine the Patron Saint of young people, love, engaged couples and happy marriages, he is also Patron Saint of beekeeping and epilepsy, the plague, fainting and traveling!
While the day was derived with Christian origins, hence predominantly popular in the West, the celebration of love caught on in cultures around the globe with their own twist.
- In Japan women often present dark chocolate to men (rather than vice versa), but not all chocolate is the same! There are different levels of chocolate gifting from obligatory chocolate (given to co-workers who they aren’t particularly fond but don’t want them to feel left out) through to hand made chocolate (made with love) for the serious romantic. On March 14 men have their turn, gifting white chocolate to their Valentine, aka ‘White Day’.
- Ghana, one of the world’s largest cocoa exporters, celebrates February 14 as ‘National Chocolate Day’.
- Meanwhile in the Philippines, mass public weddings are popular.
- In Estonia, Valentine’s Day is called “Friend’s Day” so that single people are not left out of the festivities.