Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day, a brief history of the festival of lovers

Every year, on February 14, lovers all over the world celebrate Valentine’s Day. On this festival of love, couples exchange small gifts, bouquets of flowers and even promise each other eternal love with a proposal of marriage. But for some, this candy-pink image hides a much more commercial reality. One thing’s for sure, everyone has their own take on Valentine’s Day. But who is this famous Valentine?

The Roman origins of Valentine’s Day:

Church history has no shortage of Saint Valentines. At least eight are reported to have existed!

So the Valentine who gave birth to the festival of lovers really did exist. Valentine of Terni probably lived in the 3rd century A.D. and officiated as a clandestine priest, illegally blessing marriages.

This illicit activity led to his imprisonment under Emperor Claudius II and beheading in 270, 273 or 280. While the year of his death is uncertain, the day is known, and that’s what’s important: February 14.

Valentine’s Day

At the same time, the Romans celebrated Lupercus, god of fertility, on February 15. These pagan festivals, known as Lupercales, featured animal sacrifices and dances in which half-naked men whipped women’s bellies, symbolizing their fertility. These customs, sacred in ancient Rome, were considered licentious by the early Christians. For a long time, the Church tolerated the Lupercalia, paralyzed by imperial power.

This all changed in 492, when a new Berber pope, Gelasius I, was elected head of the Catholic Church. A pious reformer, he wished to define a code of irreproachable behavior, and began by forbidding all Christians to take part in these debaucheries.

In 494, he introduced a purification festival to compete with the Lupercalia: the “Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin” was held on February 2. The Romans paraded wisely by the light of torches and candles… This celebration gave rise to another well-known festival, Candlemas.

The lupercalia:

But this procession did not prevent the Romans from continuing to take part in the Lupercalia. As a diversion, Gelasius I decided to celebrate a saint on the eve of this pagan festival, to absorb them into the Christian religion and correct them at the same time. The saint was Valentine of Terni, who died on February 14!

Alas for the pope, not only did his maneuver fail, but the Romans also seized on the figure of Saint Valentine, whom they also celebrated on February 14 during libertine festivities. Love lotteries were organized, and the lovebirds were nicknamed Valentine and Valentine.

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Valentine’s Day in the Middle Ages:

In the end, it was Gelasius I who, against his better judgment, invented the festival of lovers! However, it wasn’t until a thousand years later that Saint Valentine was officially designated as the patron saint of lovers, under the pontificate of Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia.

Legend has it that the imprisoned priest was seduced by the beautiful eyes of his jailer’s daughter. The blind girl miraculously regained her sight through love. Before his death, the condemned man is said to have written his sweetheart a farewell letter signed “Valentin”…

Celebrating couples on Valentine’s Day didn’t really begin until the late 1950s!

Valentine’s Day

In the Middle Ages, it was above all the meeting that was celebrated. At large banquets, young men drew lots among the girls to choose a partner and spent the night with her.

As for the tradition of “Valentinage”, it consists in pairing a young girl with a man for a day: they must give each other gifts and write poems to each other as messages of love…

This custom is said to have inspired Charles d’Orléans, father of the future Louis XII, during his captivity in London after the battle of Azincourt. On the occasion of Saint-Valetin’s Day, the prince, also a poet, is said to have written a poem for his wife Bonne d’Armagnac, who had remained in France. Charles d’Orléans thus goes down in history as the first man to send a card to his sweetheart on Lovers’ Day!

The sending of cards by Valentines is said to have become common practice after this episode…

The 20th century marked the end of religious celebrations.

The commercial celebration of Valentine’s Day as we know it today originated in the United States. Initially, it was the sale of cards, reminiscent of the small bills exchanged between a Valentine and his sweetheart, that democratized the economic aspect of this celebration of love.

Over the course of the twentieth century, the religious identity of this tradition lost its intensity until Valentine’s Day became totally pagan. In 1969, Pope Paul VI withdrew the feast from the Roman liturgical calendar.

Far from the Roman Lupercus or the “Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin”, Valentine’s Day is now a celebration of love, and of couples in particular.

Valentine’s Day around the world:

Around the world, Valentine’s Day is observed in a variety of ways. In Canada, for example, cards are not exchanged according to the exclusive wishes of the recipient. It’s not uncommon for one person to send a dozen cards to different individuals.

In Asia, Valentine’s Day wins more and more hearts every year. It has become popular in India and Pakistan, for example, provoking the hostility of certain groups resistant to Western influence.

Valentine’s Day

In China, the traditional lovers’ festival known as Qixi has been gradually replaced by Valentine’s Day since the 1980s.

This celebration of lovers was introduced to Japan by chocolate manufacturers in the late 1950s. It’s a commercial festival where women offer chocolates to their loved ones on February 14th each year.

In North Africa, particularly Morocco, this celebration of lovers is also very popular, and involves the exchange of gifts.

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