Valentine’s Day has an obscure past, which is clouded by numerous fanciful legends. Like many Christian festivities this holiday’s roots lie in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was a fertility celebration held annually on February 15. It was Pope Gelasius I, who recasted this pagan festival into a Christian feast day at around 496 AD, by declaring February 14 to be the day of St. Valentine.
The story doesn’t end there. In fact which St. Valentine this pope intended to honor remains a mystery to this very day. This is because there were at least three early Christian saints known by that name during the ancient period. One of them was a priest in Rome, another was a bishop in Terni, and almost nothing is known of a third St. Valentine except for the fact that he died in Africa. But the surprising part is that all these three Valentines were known to have been martyred on the same day i.e. Feb. 14, which we celebrate today as Valentine’s Day.
The part that most historians agree upon is that the St. Valentine was a priest who came under the displeasure of Roman emperor Claudius II at around 270. After that history ends & the mythic part begins. According to the myth, Claudius II had prohibited marriage for young men, claiming that bachelors make better soldiers in the Roman army. However Valentine continued to secretly perform marriage ceremonies & was apprehended by the Romans and sent to his death. Another legend says that Valentine, imprisoned by Claudius, fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. Before his execution, he is said to have sent her a letter signed “from your Valentine.” The most believable story surrounding St. Valentine is one not on Eros or passionate love but on agape or Christian love. After all he was indeed martyred for refusing to renounce his religion. The Catholic Church revised its liturgical calendar back in 1969, thereby removing the feast days of saints whose historical origins were doubtful. St. Valentine was one of them.
Unbelievable as it may sound it was not until in the late 14th century that this Christian feast day became associated with love. We know today that it was Chaucer who first linked St. Valentine’s Day with romance in England. In 1381, Chaucer composed one of his poems in honor of the engagement between England’s Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. According to the poetic tradition, Chaucer associated the occasion with a feast day. In “The Parliament of Fowls,” he associated the royal engagement & the mating season of birds.
Over the centuries, this holiday evolved, until in the 18th century England gift-giving and exchanging handmade cards on Valentine’s Day became common. These hand-made valentine cards made of lace & ribbons, with pictures of cupids & hearts gradually spread to the American colonies. The tradition of Valentine’s cards became widespread in the United States in 1850s. At this time Esther A. Howland, a Mount Holyoke graduate from Worcester, Mass., began mass-production of these cards. The holiday became a booming commercial success. According to the Greeting Card Association in America, 25% of all cards sent each year are on Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day celebration became a recent phenomenon in India. It caught the fancy of Indian people to a great extent. Though it is seen as a western import and there are some hesitations to celebrate it, there exists a large and growing number of those who love the feeling behind the beautiful and romantic festival. To most of the Indian youth February 14 signifies love. For them it is a day when people express their affection for others. Due to globalization, people in India too celebrate the Valentine’s Day by exchanging cards and gifts.