Historical Valentine Facts, Myths & Legends


When I began my research for this article I truly had no idea of what I would find. Romance? Mushy greeting cards? Hearts aplenty? Personally, I am not a Valentine connoisseur nor am I a celebrator of the ‘Day,’ but the roots, rhyme and reason for the observation of Valentine’s Day, globally, had me curious. Why do people send flowers, cards and gifts to others in the name of love specifically on this Day? Why February? And just how far back in history does this frivolous display of spending in the name of ‘love’ and ‘devotion,’ go? I was surprised. There is far more information than I think would fit in this article before it became tedious.

So, in order to give some overview of the historical background and meaning of Valentine’s Day, I had to break the facts, myths and legends down into separate write-ups of list and categories, as well as show how the ‘Day’ is celebrated internationally. The various images and customs of Valentine’s Day observances across the globe are generally typical of a local culture or belief, and again, many of these customs stem from a source of myth and legend, some surrounded by mystery, pagan rituals and agricultural in the name of ‘gift giving.’ And it should be known that not all countries and cultures deem February the month for this celebration at all.

Not all of the information contained in this article has been confirmed, but I thought it was interesting and fun reading, not to mention food for thought. I’ve also included the links to the sites I pulled my research from, and to be sure, I wish I had come up with half this stuff.


Ancient Roots:

Most scholars believe that the St. Valentine of the holiday was a priest who attracted the disfavor of Roman emperor Claudius II around 270. At this stage, the factual ends and the mythic begins. According to one legend, Claudius II had prohibited marriage for young men, claiming that bachelors made better soldiers. Valentine continued to secretly perform marriage ceremonies but was eventually apprehended by the Romans and put to death. Another legend has it that Valentine, imprisoned by Claudius, fell in love with the daughter of his jailer. Before he was executed, he allegedly sent her a letter signed "from your Valentine." Probably the most plausible story surrounding St. Valentine is one not focused on Eros (passionate love) but on agape (Christian love): he was martyred for refusing to renounce his religion.

While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial -- which probably occurred around 270 A.D -- others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to 'christianize' celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival.

Another theory about Valentine's Day is that it’s origin is Norse and not Roman. The Normans had a St. Galantin, which meant "lover of women." Now the "G" is not pronounced like a "Gah" in the English language. It is pronounced like a "V" and so the word is like "Valantine" in sound.

The French want to say that the word Valentine comes from their word "galantine" which means a lover or gallant.


Agricultural:

In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Lupercalia, which began on February 15, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

Pagan Ritual: Lupercalia Festival

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.

The boys then sliced the goat's hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goat-hide strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides because it was believed the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would then each choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage. Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D. The Roman 'lottery' system for romantic pairing was deemed un-Christian and outlawed.

Another Source states: The history of Valentine's Day is obscure, and further clouded by various fanciful legends. The holiday's roots are in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration commemorated annually on February 15. Pope Gelasius I recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast day circa 496, declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine's Day.

Chaucer’s Love Birds:

During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of February -- Valentine's Day -- should be a day for romance.

It was not until the 14th century that this Christian feast day became definitively associated with love. According to UCLA medieval scholar Henry Ansgar Kelly, author of Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine, it was Chaucer who first linked St. Valentine's Day with romance.

In 1381, Chaucer composed a poem in honor of the engagement between England's Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. As was the poetic tradition, Chaucer associated the occasion with a feast day. In "The Parliament of Fowls," the royal engagement, the mating season of birds, and St. Valentine's Day are linked:

For this was on St. Valentine's Day,
When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.


Valentine Celebrations Globally: The Short List

Europe

Norfolk

A character called 'Jack' Valentine knocks on the rear door of houses leaving sweets and presents for children. Although leaving treats, many children were scared of this mystical person. Wales: Many celebrate Dydd Santes Dwynwen (St Dwynwen's Day) on 25 January instead of or as well as St Valentine's Day. The day commemorates St Dwynwen, the patron saint of Welsh lovers.

France

Valentine's Day is known simply as "Saint Valentin", and is celebrated in much the same way as other western countries. Denmark & Norway: Valentine's Day (14 Feb) is known as Valentinsdag. It is not celebrated to a large extent, but some people take time to be romantic with their partner, or send a card to a secret love.

Sweden

Called Alla hjärtans dag ("All Hearts' Day"), launched in the 1960s by the flower industry's commercial interests, and influenced by American culture. Though NOT an official holiday, its celebration is recognized and sales of cosmetics and flowers for this holiday are only bested by those for Mother's Day.

Finland

Valentine's Day is called Ystävänpäivä which translates into "Friend's day". As the name says, this day is more about remembering your friends than your loved ones.

Slovenia

A proverb says that "St Valentine brings the keys of roots," so on February 14, plants and flowers start to grow. It has also been celebrated as the day when the first works in the vineyards and fields commence. It is also said that birds propose to each other or marry on that day. The ‘Day’ has only recently been celebrated as the day of love. The day of love is traditionally 12 March, the Saint Gregory's day. Another proverb says "Valentin - prvi spomladin" ("Valentine — first saint of spring"), as in some places (especially White Carniola) Saint Valentine marks the beginning of spring.

Romania

The traditional holiday for lovers is Dragobete, which is celebrated on February 24. It is named after a character from Romanian folklore said to be the son of Baba Dochia. Part of his name is the word drag ("dear"), which can also be found in the word dragoste ("love"). In recent years, Romania has also started celebrating Valentine's Day, despite already having Dragobete as a traditional holiday. This has drawn backlash from many groups, reputable persons and institutions but also nationalist organizations, who condemn Valentine's Day for being superficial, commercialist and imported Western kitsch (bad taste, hogwash, etc).

Middle East and Africa

According to Jewish tradition the 15th day of the month of Av - Tu B'Av (usually late August) is the festival of love (hag haahava). In ancient times girls would wear white dresses and dance in the vineyards, where the boys would be waiting for them (Mishna Taanith end of Chapter 4). In modern Israeli culture this is a popular day to pronounce love, propose marriage and give gifts like cards or flowers.

Turkey

Valentine's Day is called Sevgililer Günü which translates into "Sweet Hearts Day".

Persian culture (Iran) Sepandarmazgan

The ‘Day” is a day for love, which is on 29 Bahman in the jalali solar calendar. The corresponding date in the Gregorian calendar is 17 February. Sepandarmazgan were held in the Great Persian Empire in the 20th century BC.

The Americas

Brazil

The Dia dos Namorados (lit. "Day of the enamored", or "Boyfriend's/Girlfriend's Day") is celebrated on June 12, when couples exchange gifts, chocolates, cards and flower bouquets. This day was chosen probably because it is the day before the Saint Anthony's day, known there as the marriage saint, when many single women perform popular rituals, called simpatias, in order to find a good husband or a boyfriend.

Colombia

Día del amor y la amistad (lit. "Love and Friendship Day") is celebrated on the third Friday and Saturday in September, because of commercial issues. In this country the Amigo secreto ("Secret friend") tradition is quite popular, which consists of randomly assigning to each participant a recipient who is to be given an anonymous gift (similar to the Christmas tradition of Secret Santa).

Asia

Japan and Korea: Thanks to a concentrated marketing effort, Valentine's Day has emerged as a day on which women, and less commonly men, give candy, chocolate or flowers. It has become an obligation for many women to give chocolates to all male co-workers. By a further marketing effort, a reciprocal day called White Day has emerged. On March 14, men are expected to return the favour. Originally, the return gift was supposed to be white chocolate or marshmallows; hence "White Day". However, lingerie and jewelry have become common gifts.

South Korea

Pepero Day, celebrated on November 11, when young couples give each other romantic gifts. There is an additional day for single people, Black Day, celebrated on April 14.

Chinese Culture

The counterpart to Valentine's Day, called "The Night of Sevens.” According to legend the Cowherd and the Weaver Maid meet in Heaven on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar. A slightly different version of this day is celebrated in Japan as Tanabata, on July 7th of the solar calendar.