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Unveiling the Origins of Valentine's Day

Updated: Feb 20

By Vanni Bhardwaj

Ancient Origins of Valentine's Day
Ancient Origins of Valentine's Day

Every February 14th, love takes centre stage as people across the globe celebrate Valentine's Day. While modern customs involve exchanging gifts, chocolates, and heartfelt messages, the roots of this romantic occasion stretch back to ancient times.

Roman Roots - The ancient Romans celebrated a festival known as Lupercalia from February 13th to 15th. This pagan festival was dedicated to Lupercus, the Roman god of fertility, and Faunus, the god of agriculture. Lupercalia was a time of purification and fertility rites, often involving the sacrifice of goats and dogs.

Saint Valentine - The association of Valentine's Day with romantic love can be traced back to the Christianization of Lupercalia. In the 5th century AD, Pope Gelasius I replaced Lupercalia with St. Valentine's Day, commemorating the martyrdom of Saint Valentine, a holy priest who lived in Rome during the 3rd century AD. The story of Saint Valentine is shrouded in legend, with multiple accounts attributing various acts of compassion and defiance to him. One popular legend suggests that Saint Valentine defied Emperor Claudius II's decree prohibiting marriage for young men, secretly marrying couples in defiance of the law and was executed. Another legend claims that Valentine sent the initial "Valentine" greeting to his jailer’s daughter just before facing execution, signing it "from your Valentine." A phrase that continues to be exchanged on Valentine's Day cards to this day.

Cupid and Psyche - In Greek literature the tale of Cupid and Psyche showcases the enduring strength of love. Psyche, an exceptionally beautiful mortal, unknowingly earns the jealousy of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. In retaliation, Venus instructs her son, Cupid, the god of desire and affection, to make Psyche fall in love with the most despicable creature possible. However, Cupid is enchanted by Psyche's beauty and accidentally pricks himself with his own arrow, falling deeply in love with her. Despite their forbidden love, Cupid and Psyche embark on a journey filled with trials and tribulations, ultimately proving that true love conquers all.

The Influence of Chaucer and Shakespeare  - As we navigate through literature, the connection between Valentine's Day and romantic love gained momentum during the medieval and Renaissance periods. Geoffrey Chaucer, in his poem "Parliament of Fowls," wrote “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate” intertwining the concepts of love and February 14th. Later, William Shakespeare solidified the romantic association in works like "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Romeo and Juliet."

Regardless of its beginning, Valentine's Day has evolved into a significant celebration. Tracing back to ancient rituals and tales of love, continues to captivate hearts worldwide, symbolizing enduring romance across cultures and centuries.

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