Thursday, February 14, 2008

The History of Valentine's Day

This is a short article that I wrote in my last newsletter that I thought I would share today, on Valentine's Day.

February has long been the month of romance.

Although it has long been associated with a Catholic priest named Valentine, Valentine's Day has never been a religious holiday. Valentine's Day has historical roots in Greek and Roman pagan fertility festivals and the medieval notion that birds pair off to mate on February 14th.

There is a legend of a Catholic priest named Valentine who lived in the 3rd century in Rome. At that time, Rome was experiencing chaos both internally and externally with the Huns, Galls, Slavs, Turks and Mongolians all trying to exert pressure on Rome's boundaries. Emperor Claudius II needed what he felt were quality soldiers, and so he decided that single men made better soldiers than men with wives and families so he outlawed marriage for young men.

Valentine, feeling that the decree was unjust, decided to defy Claudius and keep on marrying young couples. When Claudius found out, Valentine was arrested. While in prison, Valentine had a jailor named Asterius. Asterius had a blind daughter and he asked Valentine to help heal her. Through his faith, Valentine was able to miraculously cure Asterius' daughter. Before his execution, Valentine asked his jailor for pen and paper to write a farewell letter to his daughter. He signed it "From your Valentine," a phrase that has lived on since then.

Valentine thus became a patron saint and overseer of an annual festival. The festival consisted of young Roman men offering women they admired and wanted to court a handwritten greeting stating their affection on February 14th. These handwritten greetings, or cards, soon acquired the name of St. Valentine.

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