WHY DO WE CELEBRATE VALENTINE’S DAY?
(or, How to Impress Your Friends with Useless Trivia)
The St. Valentine’s Day Story….
—by Professor B.H. Pontefract
“…the last taste of sweets, is sweetest last, Writ in remembrance more than things long past.” –William Shakespeare
You too can sound really smart when you quote dead people like the poet and playwright William Shakespeare. But let’s say you are getting ready to ask that special someone to be your Valentine. You don’t want to just throw romantic quotes at her- no; you should also give her the long, slightly boring, but EXTREMELY weird story behind the day of lovers. After all, this is a story that’s mysterious and confusing, just like love itself.
ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?
Have you ever been to an all-boys or all-girls school? Well, that was the idea for the Ancient Romans, except they separated young men and women (who weren’t siblings, of course) all the time! It was rare for boys and girls even to bump into each other in the street—boys went to school all day while girls stayed home and took care of the cooking, cleaning, and other household duties. Marketplaces were even separated to prevent interaction between the sexes- books, weapons, and livestock for the men; produce, meat, makeup, and furniture for the women. Fellas- would you mind going to the mall so much if they still did it that way? The Romans may have been the first culture to celebrate their love in the middle of February. Their calendar year began in March, and they held the Feast of Lupercalia in honor of their fertility goddess on the 15th of February. The idea was to enjoy earthly delights before their spiritual cleansing in the New Year. Anyway, smart parents figured out that it wasn’t such a good idea to keep their sons and daughters totally away from the opposite sex- after all, how would they ever meet someone to marry? To solve this problem, they started a custom: on the eve of the Feast, they put all the names of all the virgins in town into a drawing. Unmarried boys would then pick a name, and the couple would spend the day eating treats, drinking wine, dancing, and celebrating together. If they had an especially good time, they might even get married! There was extra incentive to fall in love: part of the tradition at the time was, after Lupercalia, to beat all single women with strips of goatskin called februas. In fact, that’s where we got the name for the month of February!
THAT’S NOTHING LIKE WHAT WE DO TODAY!
True. At some point, the Christian church started to take over the Roman Empire. Church officials weren’t too happy about their newly converted followers still celebrating holidays in honor of pagan gods and goddesses, but they were especially troubled by what they saw around the time of Lupercalia: spankings, wine-drinking, and wicked boys and girls spending time together (there was other objectionable stuff going on, but this is a family website, so we’ll just leave it out. Maybe we’d tell you all about it if you bought lots and lots of candy.) The Christians figured out a very smart way of phasing out the pagan holiday- make it a Saint’s day instead! Instead of the feasting and passion enjoyed by the pagans, the early Christians decided to focus on the romantic tradition associated with the holiday. They chose St. Valentine, who had become the patron saint of lovers for his bravery in helping couples stay together. The date of his martyrdom is a lucky coincidence- it just happened to fall close enough to the pagan holiday that they were able to pull off the neat trick of substituting one special day for another.
OK, SO WHO WAS THIS VALENTINE GUY?
Valentines Day, as we call it, was named after Valentinus, who was executed on February 14, 269 (A.D.) We don’t know too much about his real story— but many people believe that, when transitioning from Lupercalia to St. Valentine’s Day, some church administrators may have exaggerated or even made up stories about the sainted martyr. There are a few things we do know, though. The Roman emperor at the time, Claudius II, used bloody, aggressive military tactics to conquer Europe. Not surprisingly, most of the Roman soldiers wanted no part of the violence. Claudius, who historians believe may have been insane, was convinced that the soldiers didn’t want to fight because they’d have to leave behind their wives and families. He outlawed all marriages and officially cancelled all engagements. According to legend, Valentinus, a priest of the hot new religion of the time– Christianity– performed secret marriages to many couples. When Claudius heard of this, he was so mad that he sentenced the priest to be beaten to death and then beheaded. This did, in fact, happen, but not before a miracle or two took place. Valentinus preached to his jailer and converted him to Christianity. To reinforce the prison guard’s new faith, he restored the eyesight of the jailer’s blind daughter. The daughter fell madly in love with the priest, but she couldn’t save him from being executed. Valentinus slipped her a passionate love letter to say goodbye, and signed it, of course, “Your Valentine.” February 14, the day of his death, became the day of his martyrdom. He was officially sainted by the Catholic Church a couple hundred years later.
VALENTINE’S DAY IN THE MODERN AGE (THAT MEANS NO SPANKINGS)
The famous image of Cupid came to be associated with the day when the stuffy Victorians celebrated the holiday. The very thought of passion made these proper folks uncomfortable, so they added pictures of the chubby winged angel to greeting cards and boxes of candy, and they included children along with the celebration. America started the Valentine’s craze in Michigan in the 1880’s when the first Valentine’s Day card was mass-produced. Today, Americans send more cards to celebrate Valentine’s Day than any other holiday (except Christmas). An estimated 15% of women send themselves flowers on February 14th! Despite this, it turns out that men spend more money for Valentine’s Day than women do (this is the only holiday where this is true). Even stranger, it’s guessed that about 3% of pet owners will give their dogs, cats, fish, hamsters, or snakes a Valentine’s gift.
SO HOW’S ALL THIS SUPPOSED TO HELP ME FIND A VALENTINE?
If you haven’t won your fair lady’s heart with all this exciting Valentine’s Day information, we at Candy Warehouse suggest a box of her favorite candy with the simple quote, also from Shakespeare: “Sweets to the sweet.” Or, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing, you could include this Shakespearian sonnet, recently discovered by our team of Candy Warehouse historians:
Not from chocolate do I from judgment pluck And yet methinks I have rock candy, But not to tell of good or evil luck, Of PEZ, of Pop Rocks, or Pixy Stix quality; Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell, Pointing to each his Mentos, Mars, and mind, Or say with M&M’s if it shall go well, By oft predict that I in heaven find: But from gummi cola bottles my knowledge I derive, And, Everlasting Gobstoppers, in them I read such art As ‘Lollipops and beauty shall together thrive, If from website to my home thou wouldst convert:’ Of Hot Tamales this I prognosticate: ‘Thy end is truth’s and Mega Warhead’s doom and date.’