Why do we celebrate Saint Valentine’s birthday? Happy birthday, dear Valentine?

Why do we celebrate Saint Valentine’s birthday? Happy birthday, dear Valentine?

Actually, NO, we don’t celebrate Saint Valentine’s birthday. Sadly instead, we commemorate his martyrdom.

Who was Saint Valentine? The Catholic Church says there were actually three Saint Valentine’s, and all were martyrs. So which one does Valentine’s Day honor? The most likely candidate was a Roman priest during the reign of Claudius II, emperor of Rome from A.D. 268 to 270.

Desperate for men to fight his wars, Claudius forbade soldiers to marry. According to the legend, young lovers came to Valentine to be married, and these unauthorized marriages led to his imprisonment. While awaiting his execution, he himself fell in love with his gaoler’s daughter. Shortly before his death on February 14th, he wrote her a letter and signed it, “ From Your Valentine.”

The problem is that there is no proof any of this actually happened. Valentine’s name is not on the earliest list of Roman martyrs, and there’s no evidence that he was put to death on February 14th. In fact, in 1969, the Catholic Church removed Valentine’s Day from the list of official holy days.

So how did Valentine become associated with a celebration of love? It may be that February 14 was chosen by the early Church to replace a Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia, which fell on the same date. Another explanation is that the sentimentality of Valentine’s Day can be traced to the Middle Ages, an era fixated on romantic love. It was popularly believed that birds chose their mates on February 14th, a legend that Geoffrey Chaucer referenced in his poem “Parliament of Foules”. Quote: “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every fowl cometh there to chooses his mate.”

So what about all the flowers and chocolates? These fairly recent additions to the Valentine story have less to do with the passion of romance than they have to do with the power of retailers who want to sell flowers and chocolates.

 

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