Last year I finally got around to writing about the history of Valentine’s Day.

(Graphics credit: FünMunch)

Since then, a bit more information has come in!

Let the story continue …

The French site l’Internaute has quite the summary of everything we always wanted to know about February 14, and is the source for the next few sections below.

Lupercalia

In ancient Rome Lupercalia was held every year on February 15. It was a year-end celebration of Faunus Lupercus, the god of fertility, shepherds and their flocks. It was also a rite of purification prior to the New Year, which fell on March 1.

The festival had three ceremonies. The first involved the pagan priests sacrificing a goat in the grotto of Lupercal, the wolf who nourished Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome.

The remains of the goat were then used in the ritual which followed. The priests daubed young members of noble families with the goat’s blood which was a purification rite, representing a symbolic cleansing of the shepherds.

No doubt other animals were sacrificed, because the priests kept the blood and the skins for a race through the streets of Rome. They daubed themselves in blood, as they had done to the young noblemen. The skins served as a covering and switches. The priests and noblemen wore some of the skin and carried switches with which to whip people as they ran down the streets. Women were particularly eager for this, because it was said that a whipping was said to give a happy pregnancy and painless childbirth. (This is not the only pagan tradition in Europe where men used to whip women in late winter or early Spring. Central Europe has Dyngus Day, which takes place on Easter Monday and may extend to Easter Tuesday, when women get their own back on the men. No doubt there were more.)

Lupercalia culminated in a great banquet, where men chose their dining partners. This sometimes led to marriage.

It is also worth remembering that the story of Cupid and Psyche was part of Roman mythology.

Pope Gelasius I

Even once most Romans had converted to Christianity, Lupercalia continued to be celebrated.

In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I wanted to put a stop to the festivities. He wrote a letter to Senator Andromachus in which he listed his objections to the pagan revelry. Gelasius criticised the immoral behaviour displayed and pointed out that the pagan worship and rituals did nothing against the disease epidemics which plagued the city 20 years before.

However, Andromachus was fond of Lupercalia and refused to forbid the celebrations.

Gelasius had no choice but to urge Christians to turn the day into one of true love. He chose February 14 to commemorate St Valentine as the patron saint of lovers. However, Wikipedia says that Gelasius initiated Candlemas — February 2 — and encouraged devotion to Mary, recalling her purity. Incidentally, February comes from februare, meaning ‘to purify’.

Middle Ages

February 14 was not widely celebrated in Europe until the Middle Ages.

No doubt the notion of chivalry which was popular at that time gave rise to gentleness and honour on the part of men towards women.

Some pagan elements remained, even though the Continent was Christian by this time. A ‘love lottery’ took place in several European countries. Young people drew names of a partner of the opposite sex and wore that person’s name on their sleeves for the following week. On the first Sunday of Lent, the Bonfire Festival took place. A ‘knight’ — a Valentine (see my post for an explanation) — from the February 14 draw was appointed to head the festival. He was accompanied by a young woman. They led a procession around their town or village. The people carried small torches to burn weeds and smoke out garden pests, such as moles, in order to ensure a good crop during the summer months. The festivities concluded with a bonfire.

It was also during this era that young women paid attention to the birds they saw during this time. Some species were said to indicate what sort of men they would marry. A robin indicated a sailor. A sparrow designated a man of modest means who would keep her happy. A goldfinch was said to presage marriage to a wealthy man.

The cross as ‘x’ — and a kiss

The ‘x’ has been used by Christians since the earliest days of the Church.

Initially, an ‘x’ at the bottom of a message indicated a thousand kisses.

The ‘x’ recalled the cross on which St Andrew, the apostle, died. He, like St Peter, did not consider himself worthy to die the same way our Lord did. Also like Peter, Andrew died as a martyr. He had gone to preach in what is now the Balkans and was crucified in Patras in the Peloponnese. During his lifetime, he had travelled all the way to what, today, is Kiev. Therefore, it is not surprising that after his death a great devotion arose to him.

The custom of the illiterate signing their names with an ‘x’ began in the Middle Ages. Those who did so had to then kiss that cross as a sign that they were telling the truth in court or another situation involving the law. Remember, the printing press was still to come, so Bibles were rare.

From this and from the earliest days of the Church, the ‘x’ came to symbolise a kiss.

Shakespeare

Last year’s post looked at Valentine’s customs through the Renaissance.

The source for the following material comes from The Telegraph’s 2010 article, ‘History of Valentine’s Day’.

By the early 17th century, February 14 was widely celebrated as a day of love. Shakespeare made a reference to it:

in Ophelia’s lament in Hamlet: “To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,/All in the morning betime,/And I a maid at your window,/To be your Valentine.”

Mid-18th century

In England, men began writing love notes on St Valentine’s Day. In 1797, a book, The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, appeared. It advised on which phrases, rhymes and words to use in these messages, which were precursors to the Valentine’s Day card.

When sending messages by post became affordable, the possibility of sending Valentines anonymously became standard — and still is today in the UK.

19th century

By the beginning of the 19th century, sending Valentines was so popular that English factories began to mass-produce them.

In the United States, Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts, began making and selling Valentine’s Day cards in 1847. She was able to use a new innovation — paper lace — to adorn her cards.

20th century

Valentine’s Day became commercialised with Hallmark Cards’ Valentines in 1913. February 14 is one of the company’s big card-selling occasions.

Then there was the St Valentine’s Day massacre in 1929.

By the 1980s, a whole industry emerged around Valentine’s Day. What used to be an occasion for a card and flowers or chocolates went upmarket when diamonds were marketed as the most desirable gift a woman could receive on February 14. Jewellery has since remained a popular gift.

21st century

In 2009, American retail figures showed that people spent an estimated $14.7 billion (£9.2 billion) on Valentine’s Day cards and gifts.

In 2010 — nearly a century after Hallmark’s Valentines appeared — 1 billion cards were sent around the world.

Enjoy your Sunday and best wishes for a happy Valentine’s Day!

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