On the 14th February each year, romantics across the Western world send Valentine’s cards, presents and share experiences together. But is Valentine’s Day just another Hallmark-invented excuse to help sell more heart-shaped chocolates? Is there any real romantic meaning behind Valentine’s Day?
Lupercalia – The Fertility Festival
We all know that Valentine’s Day is supposedly named after St. Valentine (more on that later) but the days around the 14th February were already celebrated in pre-Christian times as a festival of fertility, or Lupercalia.
Lupercalia is a Pagan festival
originating in ancient Rome and was dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. Priests would sacrifice a goat and young men would go around their town gently slapping both the women and the crops with strips of the bloody goat hide. This ritual was supposed to bring fertility to crops and women alike and make for a good harvest that year.
According to legend, later that day all the young women in the town would put their name into a big urn and the young men would draw names out, pairing off with the ladies as they went. A sort of ancient bowl full of car keys if you will…
Stories of St. Valentine
So who was this St. Valentine whose name is now synonymous with the 14th February and romance?
The Catholic Church recognises three different saints with the name Valentine or Valentenus, all of whom were martyred, all with their own romantic story.
The first story was of Valentine of Terni, a Christian who was martyred during the reign of Emperor Aurelian around 200 AD. Little is known of the life of Valentine other than he was made Bishop of Interamna (now Terni) in AD 197 and was soon after imprisoned, tortured and beheaded (on the 14th February no less!)
A much more romantic story belongs to the second St. Valentine. According to the story Valentine of Rome, another Christian bishop, was arrested by Emperor Claudius for giving aid to prisoners. The story goes that the imprisoned Valentine converted his jailer after restoring the sight of the jailer daughter’s, who he then fell in love with. Just before his death Valentine apparently wrote a love letter to the jailer’s daughter signed ‘from your Valentine’ – the first ever Valentine’s card perhaps?
The third St. Valentine story comes from around the same time – about AD 287. Apparently Emperor Claudius realised that single men made for better soldiers and therefore outlawed marriage. Valentine, being the romantic he apparently was, kept on marrying the young couples in secret, angering Claudius. The Emperor then had Valentine arrested and executed – again on the 14th February.
The Day of Love
It wasn’t until the end of the 5th Centuary when Pope Gelasius declared the 14th February St. Valentine’s day – a Christian feast festival – in an attempt to integrate the pagan festival of Lupercalia into the Christian religion (the ancient Romans were pretty good at doing this!)
Only in the Middle Ages did St. Valentine’s day become a celebration of love. The earliest discovered Valentine’s card was written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans (a Frenchman, inevitably!) who wrote a poem to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London. This poem is still on display in the British Museum as part of manuscript collection today!
Valentine’s Day Today
So Valentine’s day was originally about food, sex and love, and it seems as though little has changed over the years. The main difference has been the commercialisation of the celebration – equating emotional value with the amount of money spent rather than the thought or effort put in.
Pre-written cards to express our feelings and impersonal restaurants charging for ‘special’ Valentine’s meals demonstrate how artificial our celebration of love has become. For some it is no longer a special, personal evening spent feasting together on a lovingly prepared meal and enjoying one another’s company.
Well this year we’re on a mission to put the love back into Valentine’s day. Our special Valentine’s box will contain all the ingredients for a wonderfully romantic evening – candlelight for your dinner, flower petals for the table and some of the most romantic recipes we know. In fact, all you need to add is your traditional love poem…
You can see everything that comes in the box and order yours at www.hellofresh.co.uk/love (last orders midnight Wednesday!)
Win extra goodies
If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning some flowers (as a voucher) and some delicious chocolate, then all you need to do is show us your romantic side.
Just write us a short Valentine’s poem or tell us the most romantic thing you’ve ever done in the comments below and we will pick our favourite!