By Jacque Scott
February has long been the month of romance. Yes, I am an incurable romantic. Ever wonder how this special day started? Let’s see what we can find out.
On February 14th every year, countless cards, candy, and flowers are exchanged between loved ones all over the country. St Valentine was a saint, but why do we celebrate this holiday? The history of Valentine’s Day and its patron saint is clouded in mystery. St Valentine’s Day contains origins that are both Christian and Roman in tradition. So, who was this Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with ancient rites and traditions? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus. And, they were all martyred. We have many legends that have been passed down trying to explain some of the traditions we have today.
We do know that as early as the fourth century B.C., the Romans had an annual young man’s rite of passage to the god Lupercus. The names of teenage girls were put into a box and drawn out by the young men. The young girl became the young man’s companion for a year. And, sometimes this was mutual sexual entertainment. This went on for about eight hundred years, and finally the early church fathers decided to put an end to the practice. They decided to make Valentine, a bishop who had been martyred two hundred years before, the replacement for the deity Lupercus. By the Middle Ages, Valentine had become one of the most popular saints in England and France
One legend says that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and children at home and outlawed marriage for young men who would soon be soldiers. The empire needed soldiers, and Claudius had no fear of unpopularity. Valentine saw the injustice of the new law and defied Claudius by continuing to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When his actions were discovered, Claudius ordered him to be put to death.
Another legend says that Valentine may have been killed for trying to help Christians escape prison where they were tortured and beaten.
Some say that Valentine sent the first Valentine’s Day card while he was in prison. He is said to have sent it to the daughter of his jailor and signed it “Your Valentine”. We still use this expression today. Although we don’t really know the truth behind these legends, we do know that all of the tales show a man with great appeal who was sympathetic, heroic, and romantic.
By the seventeenth century, handmade cards were large and elaborate. Store-bought cards were smaller and expensive. In 1797, a British publisher issued “The Young Man’s Valentine writer”, a book full of romantic verses for those who couldn’t write their own.
Postal rates were very low in the next century, and Valentine Day cards were mailed in increasing numbers. Obscene cards came on the scene, and many countries banned the sending of Valentine cards. Chicago rejected some 25,000 cards in the late 1800’s saying they were unfit to be carried through the U.S. mail.
Lovers who affectionately sign XXXX’s to cards and letters don’t usually know where this custom came from. It comes from the early Christian era where the ‘X’ stood for a sworn oath. The cross was a religious symbol standing for the cross of Calvary and the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, xristos. The marks or ‘X’s were often kissed to show sincerity, and it was this practice that led to its becoming the symbol of a kiss. Now kiss your loved one. Happy Valentine’s Day. God bless you