Valentine’s Day in modern times is a day to express your love and affection to your sweetheart, IF you have one, or to your wife or your husband IF you have one of those. Failing that, even unattached boobs like myself make an effort to have some fun with the holiday, every year. Back when I was a member of the Austin Symphony Orchestra, the young ladies of SAI, the music sorority of which I was later very proud to be made an honorary member:
would prepare a very nice little reception for a rehearsal break during Valentines week with all kinds of cakes and little dainties to munch on. And I would always send a card or some candy to my Mom, my sisters, and to my female friends. While this occasionally caused a bit of trouble, it was usually taken as the bit of good fun that it was meant to be.
Valentines Day does have some historical origins, and I discuss these below. However, all of the fun, and card writing notwithstanding, there have been some very serious events that have happened on this day. Just before this posting is a very sad story from this date in 1884. But because they were an important development in the life of a most remarkable man, I felt that it was important to include them for today.
But just for the sake of FUN… here is the lighter side of Valentines Day……
Some of the History Behind “Valentines Day”:
Valentines Day has it origins in the (usually successful) efforts of the early Catholic church to eradicate pagan religions by co-opting pagan practices and holidays, and replacing them with Christian versions. In the fourth century B.C. the Romans conducted a young man’s right of passage to the god Lupercus. The festival of Lupercus is described thus by the ancient historian Plutarch in his “Life of Julius Caeser”
“At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”
According to Charles Panati, teenage girls would put their names in a box. Teenage boys would then take a name from the box at random, and the young lady whose name he drew would become his “companion for the year” for the purpose of providing “mutual entertainment and pleasure (often sexual).” At the end of the year another such lottery would be held, and so on. Needless to say the fathers of the church were determined to snuff this randy sort of business out, so they looked for a lover’s figure with whom they could replace the pagan deity of Lupercus, and the whole Lupercalia – the practices associated with him.
Bishop Valentine of Interamna
They found their man in a Valentine, a martyred bishop from two centuries past. In 270 A.D., the mad Roman Emperor Claudius II (NOT the same character as depicted in Robert Graves’ “I, Claudius”) came to the conclusion that marriage undermined the morale of his soldiers by making them loath to leave their families on campaigns on the long campaigns needed to maintain the Empire. So instead of making enlistments shorter, or some other solution he decided to issue an edict banning the institution of marriage altogether.
Valentine, the bishop of Interamna decided that he would make it possible for young lovers to pledge life-long devotion to each other by inviting them to be married by him in secret. The Emperor found out about this, and had Valentine arrested. But Claudius found himself impressed by the piety of the young priest, so he tried converting him to Roman pagan beliefs in order to save him from execution. (Above – Saint Valentine baptizing Saint Lucilla by Jacopo Bassano)Valentine refused to renounce Christianity, and attempted instead to convert the Emperor from paganism to belief in Christ. This of course did not work out and reinvigorated the Emperor’s scorn. So he had Valentine executed on February 24,270 (the exact date of his death is in dispute, it may have been in 269, or 273 AD). Legend has it that while he was imprisoned, Valentine fell in love with the blind daughter of the jailer, and by his devout faith miraculously restored her sight. His farewell message to her was signed “From your Valentine”…. a phrase that would live on.
The Bishop Becomes the Saint
Needless to say the church viewed this man as the ideal replacement for Lupercus. So in 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius (below) outlawed the Lupercan festival, which took place during that second week in February. But, his Holiness knew that he would
have to keep some facet of the old Lupercan practice around in order to keep the Romans, who still loved a game of chance interested in a Christian version of the old festival. So, the names of young ladies in the box were supplanted by the names of saints whose lives the drawer was to emulate for a year. This was of course, a rather stuffy way to replace the old fun festival, and adolescent young men of the time were likely much disappointed by this change. But eventually the old practice gave way and the new festival, whose spiritual overseer was it’s patron saint – Valentine, caught on. The old pagan time-frame of mid-February was also kept, hence the present Valentines Day on February 14. There is in fact scholarly debate on this link; some have said that prior to this reference by Geoffrey Chaucer, in his poem “Parlement of Foules” (1382):
“For this was on seynt Volantynys day_
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”
there is no association of Valentines Day with romantic love. Whatever the actual origins of the association, the young men of Rome began offering the young ladies of their choice greetings of affection written by hand on Feb. 14, and in time the greetings became more decorative, often by the inclusion of the little character of Cupid, the naked cherub floating about and striking victims with his arrows dipped in love potion. This came about because in Roman mythology, Cupid (Latin cupido, meaning “desire”) is the god of desire, affection and erotic love. He is the son of goddess Venus the goddess of love and beauty and the god Mars.
Valentines Cards, and Naughty Business
This eventually morphed into the production of Valentines cards. In 1797, a British publisher issued “The Young Man’s Valentine Writer”, which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called “mechanical valentines,” and a reduction in postal rates in the next century ushered in the less personal but easier practice of mailing Valentines.
That, in turn, made it possible for the first time to exchange cards anonymously, which is taken as the reason for the sudden appearance of racy verse in an era wherein such matters were considered neither fitting nor proper for open communication, even between married folk, let alone the unmarried kind!! This rather disreputable business got to the point where in the 1890’s the Chicago post office rejected over 25,000 cards from its delivery service, because they were deemed sufficiently immoral to make them unfit to be carried through the U.S. Mail!! However, X-rated greetings notwithstanding, the U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 190 million valentines are sent each year in the US. Half of those valentines are given to family members other than husband or wife, usually to children. Some of those more innocent cards are pictured below. On top is a “Buster Brown” card from the early 1900’s, and below, an effort from the 1960’s.
READERS!! If you would like to comment on this, or any “Today in History” posting, I would love to hear from you!! You can either sign up to be a member of this blog and post a comment in the space provided below, or you can simply e-mail me directly at: email@example.com I seem to be getting hits on this site all over the world, so please do write and let me know how you like what I’m writing (or not!)!!
Kids on Valentine’s Day = http://utschoolswire4u.blogspot.com/2011/02/valenntine-day-celebrations-at-golden.html
Brian with SAI = Personal files of the author
Statue of Cupid = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cupido4b.jpg
Valentine’s Card = http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/article-22683-the_unofficial_histo.html
Buster Brown Card = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Buster_Brown_valentine.jpg