Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash   

Valentine’s Day

Where on earth did this holiday come from?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I’m just curious. Curious about human behavior and why Wegmans was packed this morning with people buying 35 dollar roses that were 9.99 last week.  Look, any day that focuses on love and involves roses, chocolate, and whispered sweet nothings, is a great day in my book.

But how did it get started?

Was there a Saint Valentine?  And did he wear a diaper and shoot arrows of love?

I did a bit of web surfing to find out.

Turns out, the holiday had a pretty brutal and bloody beginning.

In Ancient Rome, the feast of Lupercalia was celebrated in mid-February.  Lupercalia was a ritual of purification and fertility.  Lupercus was the Roman god of fertility.  (So, this initially didn’t have anything to do with Christianity or Saints. )  Februare means to purify.  This particular celebration began with the sacrificing of animals.  Then the young men would run naked and laughing through the town hitting the women with hides of the sacrificed animals.  If you got hit, consider yourself lucky because that would keep you fertile.  After this, there was a matchmaking lottery.  Young women would put their names in a big urn and be paired up until next year’s festival or later if they were a good match.  Pretty Romantic.

Ok, so there’s the “Fertility” and “February” connections.

It’s commonly thought that the name, Valentine’s Day, came as a result of Emperor Claudius II in the 3rd century AD because he executed a man — named Valentine — on February 14.   Claudius canceled all marriages because he wanted men as soldiers for his army.  Valentine was executed for defying the Emperor’s order and performing marriages in secret. The Catholic Church honored this martyr and made Valentine a saint.  By the middle ages, Valentine was seen as a heroic and a romantic figure.

Christians wanted to close down Lupercalia (and all pagan festivals), but as you can imagine, it was pretty popular(?!). So the story goes that with time, things got kind of mixed up and the festivals merged together… a fertility ritual, celebration of martyrdom, and one “Valentine” who performed secret marriages.

Another link in the history of Valentine’s holiday is that from February 14 on, birds were thought to begin choosing their mates.

In the 19th century, sending love notes to the object of one’s affection became popular with the mass production of greeting cards.  Other tokens such as flowers and sweets also became popular on February 14.

So what about Cupid?  The story of Cupid dates back to ancient Greece.  Cupid’s mother was Venus (Aphrodite).  Cupid was known as Eros, the God of love.  Cupid was armed with a bow and both golden arrows and leaden arrows.  The golden arrows could arouse one’s desire, and the leaden ones could make one repulse another.  Cupid could play with both mortals’ and the gods’ emotions.  Initially, he was seen as a very handsome man, but later on (in the Hellenic period), he was portrayed as a mischievous child.  He became the mascot of Valentine’s Day.

Roses.  According to mythology, they were Venus’s (the Roman goddess of Love) favorite flower.

So, there you have it.  

Valentine’s Day across the world.

Today, while it’s still mostly associated with romantic love, Valentine’s are also sent to friends, family, classmates, etc.

Here are a few ways the world celebrates this holiday:

Finland – Valentine’s Day focuses on friendship.

Japan – The focus is on the men, and women give chocolates to them. Not vice versa.

South Korea – Valentine’s Day is just one of 12 “love days” that are celebrated on the 14th of each month.

China – Valentine’s Day often correlates with the Chinese New Year.

Columbia – It’s Love and Friendship day; less of a romantic holiday.

In Russia, Men are celebrated on February 23rd (Defender of the Fatherland Day), and March 3rd is International Women’s Day where women are celebrated.

Denmark-Loved ones are sent gaekkebrev (joke letters) – a funny poem or love letter on a piece of paper cut in intricate patterns.

Happy Valentine’s day. 

Life is the Flower for which Love is the Honey. -Victor Hugo 

Christine Matteson

Christine Matteson BC-DMT, LCAT, LMHC is a creative arts psychotherapist in
Private Practice from Syracuse, NY with 25 years of experience.