The origin of Valentine's Day seems to be linked to the festival of Lupercales, a Roman fertility rite in honor of the god Luperco. However, many more narratives contribute to the story of the celebration as we know it today, such as the story of young Valentine in Rome or the traditions of courtly love so famous in medieval literature.
Valentine's Day: a whole day dedicated to your loved one and the celebration of affection and passion, a day that we identify with gifts, chocolates, bouquets of roses, and love letters. However, the origins of the tradition were nothing like these, and presents or courtship gestures had no place, and the celebration had more of a primitive tone.
In today's blog, we will briefly summarize some of the traditions that contributed to the making of Saint Valentine's Day as we celebrate today. Different times and traditions, but still one common denominator, the celebration of love between lovers.
We begin our review with the Lupercales, a Roman rite celebrated on February 15th. The feast took its name from two Latin words: "lupus," wolf, an animal associated with the Faunus God Luperco, and "hircus," representing the male goat. This celebration lasted for three days, and according to tradition, a group of young noblemen called Lupercos met at the top of Palatine Hill, where they sacrificed a goat. After the sacrifice, the chosen ones went out into the street, covered by goat skins and masks in the shape of a wolf, chasing the naked women and whipping them with strips of the sacrificed goat skin to procure fertility.
Despite the popularity of this celebration, the arrival of Christianity would lead to the termination of pagan practices, and the festivity would be abolished by Pope Gelasius I finally, in the 5th Century. Instead, Valentine's Day would be declared a religious holiday to honor Saint Valentine, who died in martyrdom in the 3rd Century. His story is one of love and tragedy.
According to tradition, Saint Valentine's lived in Rome during the time of Emperor Claudius II, whose significant challenges were defending his empire and fighting the spread of Christianity. At the time, the Emperor issued a law prohibiting young men from getting married and, instead, forced them to join the military. Valentine, a young priest, defied the Emperor's rules and not only he celebrated secret marriages among the young but also managed to convert them to Christianity. This double subversion cost the young man a stiff prison sentence, where he met and became friends with his warder. The guard had a blind daughter, Julia, and challenged young Valentine to restore his daughter's sight, and if he did, he would convert to Christianism. True to his word, when Valentin restored his daughter's vision, he and all his family converted to the new faith. This act would cost the saint a death sentence.
Something else about the story is that when Valentine met Julia, they both fell in love. The story tells that before his execution, Valentine wrote Julia a goodbye letter and signed "from your Valentine ."This farewell became immortalized through history. Julia, in return, planted an almond tree by his grave that bloomed every February, commemorating their impossible love.
Moving along through history, love traditions enjoyed great popularity in medieval literature. The next relevant event associated with Valentine's Day dates back to the 14th Century with the publishing of Geoffrey Chaucer's poem: The Parliament of Fowls. In the love poem, the poet writes, "For this was on Saint Valentine's Day, / When every fowl comes there this his mate to take," later becoming a reference to courtly love poetry tradition.
Courtly love tradition became very popular in most European medieval literature and celebrated courtly and platonic love over war and battles. Love becomes the ideal to explore, and young noblemen and ladies gather in literary challenges where the poets sing and celebrate love. The poetic love quarrels were celebrated by the female audience, who would crown the winner and honor him with colorful ribbons and garlands of flowers that they pin on their cloaks. The idea of love as a victory and the gifts that go along with it may also be essential in reconstructing today's Valentine's tradition.
Love is always a source of inspiration; it has always been there and will always be, whether real, ideal, or platonic. For now, you choose the tradition you like the most, and the loved one with whom you want to share it. In any case, let me wish you a Happy Valentine's Day!
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