Every year on February 14th jewellery stores, flower shops and chocolate vendors witness an exceptional increase in their sales. Restaurants also find themselves fully booked – especially at dinner time and especially if candlelit. Stationary stores actually run out of any type of card which features red hearts (including baby shower ones which are then – cunningly – corrected with a matching red felt tip pens) and spirits also get their fare share of attention. Valentine’s.
But how did all of this come to be? How did it happen that an ordinary day in February became the “day of lovers” and – consequently – delivered such impressive commercial results?
It is widely believed that St. Valentine was a Medieval Catholic priest and martyr and the February 14. Is the anniversary of his death (not exactly romance, is it?), however this is incorrect. The Christian church actually decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianise” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia which still survived after the rise of Christianity despite having been outlawed.
Lupercalia was dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of fertility. During the celebration a goat and a dog would be sacrificed in the cave where Romolus and Remus – founders of Rome – were believed to have been cared for by the she-wolf (still today symbol of the city). The interiors of the goat were then spread both on women and on crop field, to make both fertile. Afterwards all young women would place their name in an urn, the bachelors of the city would each pick a name and become paired with the chosen woman for the rest of the year. This “pairing”, which was not a marriage, had obvious consequences which kind of explain why the Christian church was so eager to set an end to this celebration.
Anonymous Valentine cards became popular much later, in times when expressing feelings and emotions –especially deep, carnal ones like love – was considered inappropriate. To spice things up, in those times Valentine cards contained quite a lot of physical references and, in any case, were considerably far from the contemporary “My dearest, I love you. Yours xxx”.
How did we get from Pagan fertility celebrations and anonymous dirty cards to restaurants and roses still remains a mystery but, given the important history of this celebration, the least we can do is to avoid clichés and present our beloved ones with something really special and not just with whatever is on sale or looks brighter in the window displays. After all, it’s about love.
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