Love

The History of Valentine’s Day: From Bloodshed to Love

Valentine’s Day is such a romantic day but do we really know anything about it? Read along to find out how bloodshed turned into love.

We’ve all heard of Valentine’s Day, if you haven’t, then congratulations, I am speechless. It’s a day filled with love, flowers, and most importantly, chocolate. We go out to nice dinners and then enjoy the rest of the night with that special someone.

Most people love Valentine’s Day and all it stands for. Did you know that last year in the good old US of A we bought 196 million roses? That is a lot of roses. Also, did you know that red roses symbolize love and passion, but that purple roses symbolize that the person giving them to you will be with you forever. So, I don’t know about you but I’ll be dropping a few hints for some purple roses.

So what spurred this annual declaration of love? I did a lot of research for you and can say that the history of Valentine's Day is rather interesting. Read on to find out why it is such an important holiday.

Where it all began

Valentine’s Day has a complicated history and no one fully understands how it came about. One of the most common explanations suggests that during mid-February the pagans would celebrate Lupercalia.

Lupercalia was a 3 day festival for fertility between the 13th and the 15th of February, and during this time the people would offer up animal sacrifices. Women would then be whipped with the skin and blood of the animal… you know as one does.

This would increase a woman’s fertility throughout the coming year. So basically, back then, every year us women would receive our yearly dose of whipping to increase our fertility, we wouldn’t want poor Jimmy to go without a sibling.

Others have claimed that instead of the whipping, men and women would place their names in a box and someone would then randomly pair them. For a single day they would be considered full partners, even sex was allowed. How revolutionary.

St Valentine, the martyr

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During the 3rd century, the power hungry emperor Claudius II decreed that single men in the army were not allowed to get married. He believed that single men made better soldiers as they weren’t preoccupied with thoughts of their wives or children.

Emperor Claudius was so sure of this, that in order to recruit more men into the army he banned marriage completely. Claudius had some issues and probably wasn’t a forward thinker.

St Valentine was a bit of a romantic rebel. He decided that not even the emperor would stand in the way of love, so he formulated a plan were he would marry the love birds in secret. Rumor has it he performed hundreds of ceremonies before he was caught. Unfortunately, he was given a death sentence. Claudius was a bit of a mood killer.

The couples were so grateful that they would visit St Valentine in prison and pass flowers and notes through the cell bars. This is where the idea of presenting flowers to a loved one comes from.

Oh, my sweet valentine

St Valentine’s jailer realized that he was a very smart individual and asked him if he could tutor his blind daughter Julia. Julia and St Valentine got on famously; he would describe the world to her and taught her about God, philosophy, and arithmetic.

Julia one day told him that she deeply wished to see the world, to which he replied that if she truly believed, then she would be granted her vision. The story goes that they prayed fervently all night and God, seeing their devotion, restored her sight.

Julia was naturally thrilled as she could finally see all the things that St Valentine had painstakingly described to her. On the day of St Valentine’s execution, he wrote her one last letter telling her to stay close to God and he signed it “your valentine.”

This sign off has since inspired the title “my valentine.” What people don’t know is that St Valentine never meant it romantically but affectionately and lovingly. It was a display of their deep friendship. Isn’t that just sweet.

How Lupercalia turned into St Valentine’s Day

When the church came to power, they disapproved of the hedonistic nature of the Lupercalia festival, far too many naked people running around for their liking. Instead of eliminating the tradition completely, they replaced it with St Valentine’s Day.

Interestingly enough, it was never meant to be a romantic day, but a day to celebrate St Valentine’s devotion to God, since he was considered a martyr.

Cupid and his arrows

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The cute little baby angels you see around the Valentine period, the cherubs, were actually inspired by Cupid the Roman God of love. But they were Christianized as well, to get rid of the pagan influence.

Admittedly, Cupid is a better fit for Valentine’s Day rather than the cherubs, seeing how he could do that whole making people fall in love thing.

How Valentine’s Day evolved into an expression of love

As I mentioned above, in the beginning, Valentine’s Day was not associated with love. People argue that Jake Oruch was the first person to connect Valentine’s Day with love. He had written a poem about the love Richard III (the king of England in the 12 century) and Anne of Bohemia shared, as they would soon be wed.

The poem goes on to say that the love birds came together on Valentine’s Day. Others argue that a poem by Charles Duke of Orleans, for his wife, is one of the oldest poems about Valentine’s Day, and it goes: “I am already sick of love, my very gentle Valentine.” Doesn’t that just make you want to sigh?

Others claim that the connection was made in the 1400’s, in the French court. A large feast would be held on Valentine’s Day and quarrelling lovers would gather around a panel of women. These women would hear their complaints and would then help them solve the presented issues, like a modern day relationship therapist…I also bet they were cheaper.

In the 16th century, the love heart that we know today was created and people made cards with love hearts on them. They would send these cards anonymously to someone they cared about.

All this was considered very racy in the Victorian era; looks like love can even conquer the prudish and tight laced Victorians. Giving out a Valentine’s Day card is still very common, especially in England; they have sent 25 million cards in the past.

In the early 20th century, exchanging cards was expanded into exchanging small gifts; this is where the roses and chocolates came in. The 1980’s is when the diamond companies started to promote the idea of buying jewelry for someone on Valentine’s Day. A part of me is starting to see how capitalism first latched onto this romantic day, the other part of me just likes jewelry and is easily placated.

Today, on Valentine’s Day, you can find that some churches have special masses which allow you to renew your marriage vows and simultaneously celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day on an international scale

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During the 19th century, Valentine’s Day was being adopted by many countries, even those that are not Christian. Today, China and Korea spend the most globally on Valentine’s Day.

China and Valentine’s Day

In China, Valentine’s Day is called the lovers’ festival and is pretty much the same as in western countries. Men are expected to give flowers and chocolates to the person they are either with or are interested in.

Because February 14th falls too closely to the Chinese New Year, the lovers’ festival otherwise known as Chinese Valentine’s Day, is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month on the lunar calendar.

The Chinese also have a romantic story of their own attached to the day. They believe that the Cowherd star and the Weaver maid star are separated by the milky way, otherwise known as the sliver river. These two stars are lovers and can only cross the milky way on the 7th day of the 7th month to meet.

Japan and South Korea traditions

In Japan, they began celebrating Valentine’s Day in the late 1930’s. They aimed advertisements at foreigners, but by the 1950’s the day had caught on. Funny enough, due to a translation error in the earlier advertisements, it has become custom that women give chocolates to men. Even boys like chocolate! In fact, the dilemma lies with how much chocolate you allocate to each person.

Unlike in the Western culture, in Japan cards and flowers are not exchanged, it’s even uncommon to specifically go out to dinner.

Japanese chocolate companies tried to invent a reply day, also called white day, where men are expected to return the favor and give chocolates to women. In fact, it was considered extremely rude to give a gift of equal value, as it meant that you were cutting that person out of your life. You had to give a gift of higher value.

Recently, people have also been gifting others with jewelry. So basically you give a man a silver ring, and you get a diamond ring in return. I can live with having a white day.

In South Korea they have white day as well, what I find really funny is that people without a partner are expected to eat black noodles and lament their single lives. What a downer.

India, Romania, and Saudi Arabia

In India and Romania older people tend to frown upon the holiday as they believe that the western influence erodes their culture and promotes capitalism.

Saudi Arabia has even banned Valentine’s Day and has arrested youth celebrating the holiday. In fact, on Valentine’s Day all shops are banned from selling anything red. The ban created a black market for roses and wrapping paper. Let me say that again, there is an actual black market for roses and wrapping paper. It’s almost like they have a love police…I sense a joke here.

Finland and Estonia

Finland and Estonia don’t even celebrate Valentine’s Day. I guess they’re just not the romantic type.

Today’s romantic legends

In China, a love struck man proposed to his girlfriend by buying 99 iPhone 6’s, and used them to make a love heart. This endeavor cost him 50,000 EURO, this was about two full years of his annual salary.

That’s a big demonstration of love. The problem is that she said no… I guess she doesn’t like the new iPhone 6.

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Our next legend decided to propose at Disneyland by hiring a group of actors to do some sort of a musical were he proposes in a song. Although this didn’t happen on Valentine’s Day, it was ridiculously sweet. Good thing she liked musicals.

Another legend decided that he would shave his head in solidarity with his girlfriend, who was losing her hair due to cancer treatments. Now folks, I think this guy is a keeper.

There was also the girlfriend from Singapore who surprised her boyfriend for his birthday by tracking down all his friends and family and throwing him a surprise party. In a dramatic twist of events he then surprised her by proposing at the party.

He made a music video for her to watch as his family and friends looked on, it was really funny and had elements of drag in it. This is probably the only time you won’t be upset that his friends snitched.

 

Then there was the woman who proposed to her boyfriend by having him meet her in the park. As he walked down the path he saw signs that were placed on the trees telling him how he meant everything to her. When there were no more signs, she appeared and proposed, he naturally said yes. Even boys like to be romanced.

 

So there you go ladies, we have options, we can either be wooed or we can be the wooer, so much romance makes me want to get up and dance.

Although Valentine’s Day has a long and convoluted history, the only point we need to pay attention to, is that this holiday is a celebration of love and what can be more beautiful than that.

Comment below if you know some interesting facts about the history behind Valentine’s Day or if you’ve seen a grand romantic gesture. Also don’t forget to comment about the most romantic thing your partner has ever done for you. I can’t wait for all the collective awwwws. I will leave you with this poem:

I love thee – I love thee,
‘Tis all that I can say
It is my vision in the night,
My dreaming in the day. ~ Thomas Hood

About the author

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I love to read and follow up on social justice issues. In my spare time I like to sew and make jewelry while watching crime shows. I would have to say at heart I'm a free spirit with a sense of adventure.

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