WHY is today, February 14, celebrated as Valentine’s Day? It’s not a holiday, but the whole world recognizes it as lovers’ day when married couples, fiancés and fiancées exchange love notes, whisper sweet nothings and go out for dinner or a hotel tryst. The most visible symbol of this day is the legendary boy Cupid. Armed with a bow and arrow, he aims at a man and a woman and pierces through two hearts at once. His victims thus fall — in love.
Do you remember the first time you fell “victim” to Valentine’s Day?
I do. I was a boy of 13, a high-school sophomore in 1963, when I attended a Valentine’s Day program for kids organized by a Baptist Church. Each of us received a red, jigsawed half-heart. The challenge was to find the other half. I found mine held by an American girl, Carol Housestone.
I was to learn years later that, to this day in the United States, the “raffle of hearts” remains a Valentine’s Day practice. Each half-heart male recipient looks for the other half and inevitably finds it in the hand of a female recipient, who then becomes his Valentine.
The origin of Valentine’s Day could no longer be accurately traced. One theory recalls Saint Valentine, a 3rd-century priest in Rome who became the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages.
Eventually, however, the Roman Catholic Church removed St. Valentine from its roster of saints because of his day’s identification with fornication.
It dates back to the pagan celebration of the Lupercalia feast that originated in the third century in honor of the goddess Juno Februata. It called for young women putting their names on paper into a box, to be drawn by men. The matching boys and girls would be considered partners for the year.
To win converts, church officials Christianized the ancient pagan Feast of Lupercalia, changing its name to St. Valentine’s Day. To give the celebration further meaning and eliminate pagan traditions, priests substituted the Saints’ names for the names of the girls in the raffle draws. The young people were supposed to emulate the lives of the saints whose names they had drawn.
By the fourteenth century, however, they reverted back to the use of girls’ names.
The drawing of names on St. Valentine’s Eve has survived in England and neighboring places. When a boy draws a girl’s name, he pins it on his sleeve and pays her special attention. This makes the girl his valentine throughout the year.
Legend has it that the priest Valentine charmed the young and old, rich and poor people to attend his services. As a result, he performed many marriages. This angered Emperor Claudius, who could no longer recruit soldiers for his wars because the men would no longer leave their wives. Claudius eventually banned Valentine from officiating marriages.
Valentine thought this to be unfair and secretly solemnized marriages of several couples. When Claudius found out, he threw Valentine in prison. While there, he cured a jail guard’s daughter of blindness. Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and wrote her letters that were signed “From your Valentine.”
Claudius became enraged and had Valentine clubbed and beheaded on February 14, 269 A.D.
But, alas, according to Webster’s New World Encyclopedia, the reason why he had been “de-sainted” was because he might never have existed.
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