History of Valentine’s Day

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By Hannah Richardson

Well, first of all, Happy Valentine’s Day!

We’ve always associated Valentine’s Day with flowers, candy and time spent with loved ones. But lately, I’ve been thinking about the origin of the holiday.

Known as the mascot of Valentine’s Day, Cupid, depicted as a winged cherub wielding a bow and quiver of arrows, dates back as a myth from ancient Roman times. He strikes two people his “love arrows,” causing them to fall in love. Before the Romans adopted this legend, he was known to the ancient Greeks as Eros, the god of love.

Cupid, or Eros, from talesbeyondbelief.com

True to the version we know now, he did own a bow and quiver of arrows, but he had two types of arrows- ones made of gold to arouse desire and ones of lead to ignite aversion. He apparently loved to meddle as well; he struck his arrows at the hearts of both gods and mortals and played with their emotions.

One story in Greek mythology tells that Eros shot a golden arrow at the god Apollo, who fell in love with a nymph, Daphne, but she was struck by a lead arrow, so she was repulsed by Apollo. Another time, Eros fell in love with the mortal, Psyche, but she couldn’t look at him, as he was immortal. She couldn’t help but sneak a glance, much to Eros’ anger. Psyche searched the known world for him and they eventually reunited, thus Eros granted Psyche the gift of immortality.

Eros, or Cupid, was depicted as a handsome and irresistible immortal, but I suppose due to being known as a mischievous meddler, he was later depicted as a chubby infant with wings.

The biggest part of celebrating Valentine’s Day is exchanging flowers and candy. We give gifts symbolic of our love in the name of St. Valentine, but who is this saint?

St. Valentine, from catholic.org.

In my research, many sources say the origin of Valentine’s Day is hard to pinpoint, but the story most stick with is of Valentine, a holy priest in Rome who was executed Feb. 14, sometime around the year 278 AD, by Emperor Claudius II. Claudius “the Cruel” brought a reign of many unpopular and bloody campaigns to Rome. He maintained a strong army, but found it difficult to recruit soldiers to join his military. He believed men didn’t want to join the army as they were married and wanted to stay close to their families.

So what did he decide to do about this issue? Ban love, of course.

Claudius II banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, who believed this ban was unjustified, defied his Emperor and performed marriages for young lovers in secret.

His actions were discovered and Claudius ordered he be put to death, a sentence that was carried out Feb. 14. Legend has it that Valentine either fell in love or just became friends with the jailer’s daughter and left her a farewell note, signed “From Your Valentine.” Valentine was named a saint after his death.

Again, the origin is hard to pinpoint, so there is another legend that comes from the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia. Celebrated on Feb. 15, the festival’s origins are obscure, but the term “Lupercalia” likely derived from “lupus,” the Latin word for “wolf.” It’s suggested that the festival is connected to the legend of a she-wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome.

Lupercalia began with sacrificing a goat and a dog, then whipped women with their hides, hoping to increase their fertility. Festival-goers also participated in a sort of matchmaking lottery.

Although I’m glad rites like the ones at Lupercalia are no longer around, it’s quite interesting to see how these traditions have evolved to our modern holidays. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be staying with my tradition of sharing flowers and chocolates with my loved ones this Valentine’s Day.

Information obtained from history.com, npr.com, britannica.com