The History of Valentine’s Day

It would be impossible to have any romantic inclinations whatsoever on Valentine’s Day if one did not know the full history of it — the same as no one enjoys Thanksgiving without hearing about Pilgrims.

Therefore, in order to encourage knowledge and appreciation for this fascinating holiday, here is a basic history of Valentine’s Day.

There were two third-century Catholic priests named Valentine, at least one of whom may not have actually existed. Both were supposedly martyred in Rome during the Christian persecutions by Emperor Claudius II Gothicus. They were made saints at some point later on, and their saints’ day was declared Feb. 14.

The selection of Feb. 14 seems to have been an attempt to clean up a somewhat rowdy Roman holiday, Lupercalia, which was celebrated on Feb. 15. Lupercalia was a festival of fertility during which the ancient Romans sacrificed goats and dogs and then ran through the streets, whipping women with the animals’ skins. Such lashings were supposed to ensure fertility and easy childbirth for the women who received them, although we’d like to hear the women’s point of view on the matter.

The two (or possibly one) Saint Valentines may have been named the patron saints of love because of legends surrounding them. During times of war, when marriages were prohibited, one of the Valentines may have performed marriage ceremonies in secret.

Aside from this, there was no obvious connection between the two Saint Valentines and the way we currently celebrate Valentine’s Day. Connection or no connection, though, people began celebrating St. Valentine’s Day as a “lovers’ festival” in about the fourteenth century.

Sometime around 1500, people began making paper valentines; by 1800, hand-painted copper plates were produced to meet the high demand. Today, many thousands of valentines are produced each year.

Cupid comes from an entirely different source, the ancient Roman collection of gods. He was the god of love, in all its forms; he was the counterpart of the Greek god Eros. Cupid was the son of Mercury and Venus and was usually portrayed as a chubby, winged infant who caused people to fall in love by shooting them with arrows. Some tales depicted Cupid as uncaring and flaky, but he was usually considered to be magnanimous and kind.

This was another thing I wrote for one of The Daily Universe's "special sections" (see "A Freshman Easter/The Bad Haircut" for another one). I really didn't want to write it, largely because I thought the idea for the article was dumb. This comes across, I think, in my sarcastic lead paragraph.

And for the record, I could have made this much funnier if it hadn't been an alleged "news" story.

Also for the record, all the information was stolen directly from the set of encyclopedias -- Britannica, I think -- we had in the Universe newsroom.