Valentine’s Day: Not Like it Used To Be

February 14 is Valentine’s Day. Although it is celebrated as a lovers’ holiday today, with
the giving of candy, flowers, or other gifts between couples in love, it originated in 5th
Century Rome as a tribute to St. Valentine, a Catholic bishop.

For 800 years prior to the establishment of Valentine’s Day, the Romans practiced a
pagan celebration in mid-February commemorating young men’s rite of passage to the
god Lupercus. The celebration featured a lottery in which young men would draw the
names of teenage girls from a box. The girl assigned to each young man would then be
his companion during the remaining year. In an effort to do away with the pagan
festival, Pope Gelasius ordered a slight change in the lottery. Instead of the names of
young women, the box would contain the names of saints. Both men and women were
allowed to draw from the box, and the game was to emulate the ways of the saint they
drew during the rest of the year.

Needless to say, many of the young Roman men were upset about the rule changes.
Instead of the pagan god Lupercus, the Church looked for a suitable patron saint of
love to take his place. They found an appropriate choice in Valentine, who, in AD 270
was beheaded by Emperor Claudius. Claudius had determined that married men made
poor soldiers. So, he banned marriage from his empire. But Valentine would secretly
marry young men that came to him. When Claudius found out about Valentine, he first
tried to convert him to paganism. But Valentine reversed the strategy, trying instead to
convert Claudius. When he failed, he was stoned and beheaded. During the days that
Valentine was imprisoned, he fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer. His love
for her, and his great faith, managed to miraculously heal her from her blindness before
his death. Before he was taken to his death, he signed a farewell message to her,
“From your Valentine.” The phrase has been used on his day ever since.

Although the church banned the lottery for women, the Romans still commemorated St.
Valentine to seek the affection of women.

Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent the first true Valentine card 1415 to his wife. He was
imprisoned in the Tower of London at the time. Cupid, another symbol of the holiday,
became associated with it because he was the son of Venus, the Roman god of love
and beauty.

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