A day set aside for so many dedicated to the art of kindness, love and appreciation, romance, and thoughtfulness, so little is actually known of its true origins. The tradition of exchanging simple gifts, tokens of love, candy, and especially flowers have deep historical roots, much of which is murky and obscure, some of which may not even be verified, and none of which has dampened the social movement, acceptance, even the ideology, of the popular tradition of expressing the sentiments of love.
Three St. Valentine’s
There were at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, it has been said that each were martyred, coincidently on the same day. During the third century in Rome, there was a holy priest of Rome named Valentine who defied Emperor Claudius II by continuing to perform marriages after the Emperor decreed that there would be no more marriage ceremonies. The Emperor put that law in place to encourage young men to join his army, as he felt that unmarried men made better soldiers, after discovering that the young men did not want to leave their wives and families. Once the activities of the priest were discovered, the Emperor ordered his execution. While in confinement, it was said that Valentine fell in love with a blind girl believed to be his jailor’s daughter. Legend also has it, that he somehow miraculously restored the girl’s sight. In his writings to her, he signed his letters “From your Valentine,” words that have transcended time, taken on a meaning of their own, and still used today. It was said that he was executed on February 14, 269 A.D.
According to another legend, there was a Bishop also named Valentine who lived in Interamno, a city in Italy known today as Terni. He became the first known Bishop in Terni, who also lived and died during the same time as the priest. Many believed that the two Valentines may have been the same person. The priest may have journeyed to Terni, became a Bishop, sentenced to death, and then executed when he returned to Rome. Little is known of the third Valentine, who lived and died at the same time, however, it was said he practiced his faith in Africa. Although he shared the same name, and execution date, his martyrdom has little association with what has become known as Valentine’s Day.
Various Fanciful Traditions
A popular belief during the Middle Ages in England and France, after a long cold winter, birds would begin to choose their mates about half-way through the second month of the year. Song bird’s warbles were especially noted during this time, and thus mid-February became known as a time for love and courtship. It was during the Middle Ages that a popular courtship ritual was practiced. Names of eligible young ladies were written on a piece of paper and placed in a jar or bowl. The eligible young men would pick a name from the jar, and that person would become his valentine. He would wear that name on his sleeve for a week. Hence, the saying, “to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve”, loosely translated to mean that it is easy for others to know your intentions and/or feelings; it is believed the saying originated from that practice.
Some people practiced the giving of wooden love spoons. The spoons were carved in the shape of keys, keyholes or hearts. The fashionable designs and decorations for the spoons at the time meant, “You unlock my heart”; words that have morphed in the trendy popular saying “you hold the keys to my heart.” In ancient times, if a woman saw a robin flying over her on Valentine’s Day, it was thought that she would marry a sailor, if it was a sparrow, she would marry a poor man, but would know happiness.
Certain Mementos Associated with Valentine’s Day
With the passage of time, certain symbols have become associated with Valentine’s Day, such as love knots, lovebirds, lace, ribbons, doves, flowers and hearts. Though the origins of these symbols are somewhat clouded, they are commonly accepted as the concept of loyalty, romance, friendship, fidelity and love. It was believed the ancients of long ago believed the heart to be the center of all things, as they knew the heart would beat faster when excited, agitated or upset. Thus, the heart became one of the traditional symbols of love, and the belief is still around today, ever so apparent in sayings such as “It does my heart good,” or referring to someone as “broken-hearted.” Apart from the commercial side of love, in many parts of the world, Valentine’s Day remains a tradition held dear to many as a time for the expression of friendship, loyalty, romance, love, and all things good.