Monday, February 11, 2013

Apple # 624: Valentine's Day

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.  An entry about Valentine's Day.

Happy Valentine's Day
(Image from Maple North)

The day is not all saccharine sappiness.  At least, its history encompasses a far greater range of emotion than how we currently think of it.

The History -- Juno Februata

  • Long, long ago, in the days of the Roman empire, the Romans used to have a couple of pagan festivals in the middle of February.  
  • On the 14th, they celebrated a feast of Juno called Juno Februata (of February).  She was queen of the Roman gods, and since she was married to Jupiter and had to put up with a lot, she was the goddess of marriage.  

Juno, Roman goddess of marriage, women, and childbirth. That thing on her head means she's queen.
(Photo from Goddess a Day)

  • There were probably various sacrificial rites conducted in Juno's honor.  But the one practice that people describe the most is as follows: young boys (or men) drew names of young girls (or women) from a jar. Whatever girl's name he drew, the two would be paired for the length of the festival.  Something like "going together," I suppose. 
  • Sometimes they stayed paired up for the entire year, until the next name-drawing.  Sometimes the couple fell in love and later married.

The History -- Lupercalia

  • On the 15th of February (some say it lasted from the 13th through the 15th), the Romans celebrated Lupercalia.  Lupercus and Faunus were in charge of agriculture and fertility, and they along with Romulus and Remus were the founders of Rome. 
  • The men got drunk, and then two of their number got naked and sacrificed a goat and a dog. The two pressed the blood from the knives onto their foreheads, then wiped it off entirely on some wool moistened with milk.  Then they cut the goat skin into strips and, naked except for basically their underwear, ran with the strips of goatskin around the outer perimeter of the city.
  • The women would go line up along the perimeter, hoping that they would get scourged by the men with the goat skin as they ran past. 
  • The "goat-skin scourge" was supposed to purify people of curses and bad luck, and promote fertility. Sometimes the women got down to various states of undress so that getting hit with the goat skin would have an even greater effect on their fertility.

A rather tame depiction of Lupercalia
(Image from The Ancient Standard)

  • The entire ceremony, from the sacrificing to the scourging, was "accompanied by much rowdiness and horseplay."  It was enormously popular, and it's one of the pagan festivals that persisted the longest after the changeover to Christianity.  The priests had a really hard time getting people to give this one up.

This might be closer to what Lupercalia was actually like.
(Image from wikinut)

The History -- St. Valentine

  • Fast forward to A.D. times, and we get to the people named Valentine.  There's a lot of confusion about who was St. Valentine and what he did.  A lot of sites say things like "a priest who was a hopeless romantic," and other such nauseating anachronisms.
  • There are actually 3 St. Valentines, and what is known about each of them is rather hazy.  Which may account for some of the confusion about who did what, and what's legend and what's history.  
  • One was a priest in Rome (this is probably the one everyone talks about), one was a bishop in Terni, Italy, and the third was martyred in Africa.  Let's start with the priest in Rome.

St. Valentine is the patron saint of couples either engaged or married, bees and beekeepers, and travelers.
(Image from WhollyRoaminCatholic)

  • Near the end of the Roman empire, the Romans were running out of men to go to the outer edges of the empire and keep the Goths and the Huns etc. at bay. At some point around 270 A.D., the emperor Claudius II decided that the reason more healthy young men didn't want to go off and be soldiers was because they were married and didn't want to leave their wives, or if they did become soldiers, all they did was moon about their wives and they were too weak to fight.  So Cladius II issued a decree that soldier-age men were no longer allowed to get married, and if they did, they'd be executed.
  • Valentine (who was not yet a saint) agreed to marry young couples in secret.  He performed many marriage ceremonies in secret until finally he was found out.  Claudius II had him arrested.

Another depiction of St. Valentine
(Image from WhollyRoaminCatholic)
  • Stories about what happened get a little fanciful and it's hard to sort out history from legend.  Some say Valentine befriended the blind daughter of one of his jailers and cured her of her blindness.  It was this miraculous healing that was one of the things that qualified him for sainthood.
  • Valentine met with the emperor, and some say the two got along great at first, but then either the emperor tried to get Valentine to worship the Roman gods, or else Valentine tried to convert the emperor, but regardless, the two had a falling-out.  Claudius II ordered Valentine to be executed.
  • The legend has it that the blind (or maybe no-longer-blind) jailer's daughter heard that Valentine was to be killed, and she was extremely sad.  Valentine asked his jailer for a pen and paper and he wrote her a little note, probably telling her not to despair, and he said in it, "From your Valentine." 
  • That last bit sounds a lot like someone made it up well after the fact, doesn't it?
  • Well, anyway, Valentine was executed.  In fact he was beaten with clubs and stoned, and then beheaded.  It was the 14th of February.
  • The other guy named Valentine? (probably not the one in Africa) Also executed on February 14.
  • Centuries later, in 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared the 14th of February as St. Valentine's feast day.  He did this to try to create a celebration that would be very different in nature than Lupercalia, which was still being celebrated at that time.

The History -- the Middle Ages to the present

Medieval depiction of marriage.  If you wanted to imagine this is St. Valentine conducting a secret marriage, I suppose you could.
(Image from Nights of Passion)

  • Even though people did make the switch from Juno & Lupercal to Valentine, the 14th never quite lost its association with romance and pairing up. 
  • For example, Chaucer linked the 14th to romance in his "Parliament of Fowls" when he wrote ""For this was on St. Valentine's Day, When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate." 
  • The Lupercalian practice of drawing sweethearts' names out of a box seems to have persisted into the Middle Ages.
  • Somehow, by the 18th century, people went from drawing names out of a box to giving each other gifts and tokens of affection on the 14th.
  • In the 1840s, Esther A. Howlanda Mount Holyoke (yes, just like the college) made her own greeting cards decorated with lace and ribbons and birds and cupids.  Other women had been making cards like this for a long time, but she began to make and distribute them on a large scale.  She was, in effect, the first commercial producer of the Valentine's Day greeting card.

Current Valentine's Day Facts

Red roses are among the most popular gifts for Valentine's Day
(Photo from House of Flowers

  • About 100 million roses (most are red) are sold in the US for Valentine's Day each year.
  • About 1 billion cards are exchanged.
  • Women purchase 85% of the Valentine cards; men purchase 73% of the flowers.  
  • Men buy nearly all of the 35 million boxes that are sold for the holiday each year.
  • Each year, about 1,000 Valentine cards are addressed and mailed to Juliet in Verona, where Romeo and Juliet was set.
  • Interesting that all of today's facts about the holiday are not about religion or festivals or gods or God, but rather about stuff you can buy. 

You could always be unconventional and go with tulips.
(Photo from South Bay Buys)

Related entries: Roses, Chocolate, February

The Pagan Library, Lupercalia
Alberta Mildred Franklin, The Lupercalia, Columbia University dissertation, 1921
Arnie Seipel, The Dark Origins of Valentine's Day, NPR, February 13, 2011
Wikipedia, Juno Februata
Encyclopedia Mythica, Juno
Catholic Online, St. Valentine
The Holiday Spot, History of Valentine's Day
St. Valentine's Fun Facts
She Knows, Fun facts about Valentine's Day, February 3, 2009
My Dear Valentine, Valentines [sic] Day Facts

1 comment:

  1. I think you would want to use this video on your article:
    It tells exactly how Valentine was captured by Claudius, and was executed, right after he wrote the eternally remembered 'from your Valentine' letter.

    Feel free to embed the video, it is using CC attribution.


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