Valentine’s traditions then and now

An artist's depiction of the Lupercalian Festival in Rome. (Circle_of_Adam_Elsheimer_The_Lupercalian_Festival_in_Rome.jpg)
An artist’s depiction of the Lupercalian Festival in Rome. (Circle_of_Adam_Elsheimer_The_Lupercalian_Festival_in_Rome.jpg)

Flowers, candy and giant teddy bears line the aisles of grocery stores starting mid-January. Bright pinks and reds capture the attention of the hopelessly single and hopelessly in love. It’s Valentine’s Day.

“I have always liked Valentine’s Day, and I don’t always spend it with a boyfriend,”said Moriah Wilson, a sophomore. “Last year my single roommates and I made some delicious food and watched a chick flick. Maybe that’s a little sappy, but it was really fun.”

Others regard the holiday with numbing dread. Some fear the prospect of spending the holiday alone — or worse, having the dreaded DTR — as the Day of Love approaches.

“I have had my share of good Valentine’s Days, as well as the bad. This year I’m not planning on spending it with anyone, and I’m a little relieved. I don’t have any expectations to meet, and I don’t have to plan anything out of the ordinary,” said Zach Smith, a junior.

Valentine’s Day is shrouded in myth and legend and has some strange roots. Understanding the origins of the holiday can help a person see that today’s traditions are not so intense.

In ancient Rome, there was a three day pagan festival called Lupercalia that people celebrated Feb. 13–15. The holiday’s purpose was to cleanse the city. Animals were sacrificed, and their hides were given to the men, who could use them to whip any woman they wished, as this was thought to increase her fertility.

During Lupercalia, the women’s names were entered into a matchmaking lottery and, in Tinder-like fashion, matches were made and dates arranged. The date lasted for the remainder of the festival, and if all went well, the couple was encouraged to marry.

Lupercalia was later Christianized and recognized by the Catholic Church as Valentine’s Day to commemorate St. Valentine. The holiday was formally removed from the Catholic calendar later because of the uncertainty about who St. Valentine actually was, though the day is still celebrated because of the legends that surround it.

According to one legend, St. Valentine was a priest who performed secret marriages for young soldiers when the ceremony was banned by Emperor Claudius II. Another legend tells of St. Valentine, who while in jail fell in love with his jailer’s daughter. Tradition says he signed his love letters, “from your Valentine.”

Poem from Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife in 1415. (Photo courtesy of BBC)

The oldest known Valentine was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, in 1415 while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Charles referred to his wife in a sweet way, calling her his “gentle Valentine,” though the rest of the poem turned into a lament about their vast age difference and how that would eventually terminate their love.

Even if the balloons and stuffed animals seem gaudy, take a moment this Feb. 14 to reflect on positives about Valentine’s Day. Nowadays, the likelihood of being whipped with the hides of newly sacrificed goats is slim, and receiving a love note from one of the world’s most notorious prisons is equally unlikely. And finally, BYU students can celebrate the holiday however they choose.

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