Valentine’s day may be roses and dinner dates today, but how did it all begin and how has it changed?
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And, sure, he is an honorable man.
That was Marc Antony’s great speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Legend has it that Romulus and Remus were the abandoned twin sons of Mars, the Roman god of war, and a vestal virgin. The twins were suckled by a wolf – Lupa – in a cave – the Lupercal – until they were adopted by a shepherd and, later, founded Rome. Lupercus was the god who protected shepherds and their flocks. The Lupercalia was the spring festival of cleansing and rebirth that absorbed an even earlier ritual, Februa. It lasted for the ides of February, from the 13th to the 15th, when work started again in the vineyards and fields after the winter and when birds began to mate. There were sacrifices and feasting. As well as a race where men in goatskins lashed out with whips at women to encourage fertility and alleviate the pain of giving birth.
But Are They Linked?
Researchers still argue as to whether Valentine’s Day is connected to Lupercalia, but it seems likely. There were two Saint Valentines, both martyred on 14 February, one a Roman priest and the other, later, a bishop of Terni. The priest was imprisoned for helping persecuted Christians, and also for marrying soldiers, who were forbidden by the Emperor to wed. He apparently cut hearts out of parchment to remind both of their obligations. He is also supposed to have miraculously restored his jailer’s blind daughter’s sight and to have sent her a card signed Your Valentine before being clubbed to death. He wore an amethyst ring, which is probably why the amethyst signifies love and is February’s birthstone. There are shrines and relics of Saint Valentine in Dublin and Rome. And in Rome, the girl whose sight he restored planted an almond tree in his memory.
From Then Till Now
It was not until the 14th century, when knights flourished and Chaucer wrote the first Valentine’s Day poem, Parlement of Foules, that Saint Valentine’s feast day was linked with love. France celebrated with feasting, dancing, jousting and poetry. Then, in the 18th century, love was expressed with flowers, sweets, cards and keys. In the 19th century cards were made of real or paper lace and ribbons. When postage rates were reduced after the invention of the postage stamp, the number of cards sent increased rapidly. Many were sent anonymously with suggestive verses – very unVictorian. Now, instead of hand-written notes, there are mass-produced greetings cards. In the 1980s de Beers and the diamond industry began to promote giving diamonds on Valentine’s Day.
In the 21st century, Valentine’s Day is the biggest commercial event of the year, after Christmas. Apparently it is particularly important to women, many of whom even send themselves flowers. The price of red roses soars. Chocolates and flowers are the most popular gifts, lingerie sales double, jewellery sales peak and fortunes are spent on pets. Christmas Eve and Valentine’s Day are when most men propose marriage. And in March, coincidentally, there is an increase in the sales of pregnancy tests. Men aged from 25 to 35 spend the most on gifts.
A Different Day To Everyone
My cynical friend Larry says stay home and cook a delicious meal for the one you love. For him Valentine’s Day at a restaurant is an amateur’s night out where restaurants charge too much for crowded spaces; poor service and badly prepared food. My 22-year-old godson argues you must make your girlfriend breakfast in bed and invite her out for dinner. A 19-year-old says it’s a second, more romantic Christmas with his girlfriend. But for a friends’ sophisticated teenage daughters it’s an ‘old people’s thing’ and not on their crowd’s ‘bandwidth’. For her friends, it’s simply a holiday to celebrate because it’s there – and only if one has a partner.
Has technology destroyed Valentine’s Day? What’s happened to about romance and conversation? Perhaps the consequences of Valentine’s Day, even in the printing and retail sectors, are all a somewhat unlikely result of the cult of Roman martyrs. Or of Robert Burns,
O, my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve’s like the melodie,
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.
Lupercalia? It’s the economy, stupid!
Roses are red; violets are blue.
Sugar is sweet and so are you.
Stay, little Valentine, stay.
Each day is Valentine’s Day.
By Claire Wadsworth – Clare lives in France and is proficient at French-English-French translations. She has diverse experience in proof-reading, editing, letter writing, clippings service and itineraries.