Thursday, January 18, 2007

The History of Valentine's Day

There are many legends about the origin of Valentine's Day, although the actual facts are obscure. According to most scholars, it is based on an old pagan fertility festival known as Lupercalia. The annual festival was held in February, which was the official start of Spring and a time for purification to the ancient Romans. In order to "Christianize" pagan holidays, in the 5th century Pope Galasius I replaced Lupercalia with St. Valentine's Day, in honor of Valentine, a Christian martyr. But it is not clear exactly who St. Valentine was. Subsequently, many legends arose as to his identity.

According to one legend, Valentine was a Christian priest in 3rd century Rome. At the time, Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men because he believed that single men made more effective soldiers on the battlefield rather than men who were married and had families to care for. Valentine secretly defied the Emperor and continued to perform marriages for young couples. He was eventually discovered, captured, and put to death.

Another legend claims that Valentine was a Christian who was killed by the Romans because he helped other Christians escape the persecution and torture by the Romans.

One of the more popular legends claims that Valentine was imprisoned by the Romans. The daughter of one of the Roman jailers frequently visited the prison and Valentine fell in love with her. Before his execution, he sent her a love letter and signed it "from your Valentine."

The first offical connection of St. Valentine with romantic love came in the 14th century. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Parliament of Fowles, a love poem in honor of the engagement of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. Chaucer named St. Valentine as patron of the marriage.

Whatever the origin, Valentine's Day became popular over the centuries and evolved into a holiday of romantic love and gift giving.

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