Valentine’s Day has a history that may surprise you

Published 1:42 am Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hopefully you have enjoyed the longest dry spell since the beginning of 2008 this past week along with the multiple Mardi Gras celebrations throughout the South. Now it’s time to turn away from partying and into a more romantic mode with Valentine’s Day on Thursday. So what are you getting your Valentine?

Q. Who was Saint Valentine and who created Valentine’s Day?

Valentine’s Day is the most active day of the year for florists and is second only to Christmas with more than 1 billion cards sent out annually. However the origin of this festive and romantic day is entangled in multiple tales dating back to the Roman Empire.

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Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. At the time Claudius II was Emperor. In need of a stronger army “Claudius the Cruel” decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, therefore he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

While in jail awaiting execution it is said that Valentine grew fond of a girl who was believed to be the jailer’s daughter who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, Valentine asked for a pen and wrote her a letter thanking her for her friendship, which he signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Valentine was beheaded on Feb. 14, 269 A.D.

However, others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the middle of February for a different reason in an effort to ‘Christianize’ celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival. In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Feb. 14 was a day to honor Juno, the Goddess of women and marriage. Then the Lupercalia festival, which was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, started on Feb. 15. During the festival all the teenage women in the city would have their names in a big urn.

The bachelors would then choose a name out of the urn and become paired for the year with his selected woman. After hundreds of years the Roman “lottery” system for romantic pairing was deemed un-Christian and outlawed by the clergy in Rome. Pope Gelasius officially declared Feb. 14 St. Valentine’s Day around 498 A.D which stands today.

Later, during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that Feb. 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.

Despite which version you find the most truth in, today we see Feb. 14 as a day to show affection for those we care most about.

Whether through the traditional cards and roses or a friendly phone call, be sure to find time on Thursday to show those you care about what they mean to you!

David Carter is the director of the Adams County Extension Service. He can be reached at 601-445-8201.