Valentine’s Day is approaching, which means my grocery store will be setting up a drive-through tent in the parking lot for guys who wait until the last minute to buy candy and flowers.
How do you feel about this day for lovers? Many singles dislike Valentine’s Day because of its emphasis on couples, while others look forward to giving gifts and enjoying a romantic dinner by candlelight. No matter what camp you may be in, Valentine’s Day has an interesting back-story. Here are six fascinating facts about the Day of Love that you may not know.
WHEN IN ROME . . .
. . . men would spank young maidens with fresh animal pelts during the ancient festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated in mid-February. Some historians theorize that Valentine’s Day has its roots in Lupercalia.
But why in the sweet name of Tweety Bird did the Romans of yesteryear do that? Simple but strange: they believed this ritual insured fertility. Aren’t you thankful that we’ve exchanged bloody hides for overpriced cards?
SAINTS BE PRAISED!
Did you know that Valentine was a real saint – or maybe three? Ancient biographies mention a trio of Valentines who may have been different men, or meshed into one man. One story mentions Valentine as a third-century martyr under the reign of the Roman Emperor, Claudius II. The emperor had forbidden young men to marry, because he didn’t want the entanglements of married life to interfere with their military service. St. Valentine ignored the ban and performed secret marriages, which resulted in him losing his head — literally — on February 14th.
Another story has Valentine killed for refusing to worship the pagan gods of Rome. While imprisoned, Valentine prayed for a blind jailer’s daughter, restoring her sight. Before his execution, he sent her a note that was signed, “Your Valentine.” Another account mentions a Valentine who lived in Africa and was martyred along with his companions, but not much else is known about him.
FOR THE BIRDS
The English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, solidified the link between Valentine’s and romance in his 1375 poem, “Parliament of Foules” (Fowls). In his work he wrote, “‘For this was on seynt Volantynys day / Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”
Allow me to translate: Chaucer was referring to a widely-held belief that our feathered friends came together on Valentine’s Day to choose their mates.
WILL YOU BE MY VALENTINE?
Approximately 145 million Valentine’s day cards are exchanged each year, which makes February 14 the second biggest card-sending holiday, right behind Christmas.
But did you know that the first documented Valentine was written over 600 years ago? It came from the hand of a French duke named Charles, who was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Charles penned a gentle poem to his wife which read, in part, “I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine.”
Awwwww . . .
The story has a happy ending – kind of. Charles was released from captivity at the age of 46 after being shut up since he was 21 years old.
LOVE IS A MEDICATED LOZENGE
Those candy hearts with the sappy messages on them? They got their start in 1847, when a Boston pharmacist named Oliver Chase invented a lozenge-making machine. Not long after that, he converted his contraption to churn out confectionary products and his brother, Daniel, came up with a way to press lovey-dovey messages into them. It wasn’t until 1902 that their company started manufacturing these “conversation candies” as heart shapes.
Nothing says love like a chalky piece of heart-shaped candy, huh?
KNOWN ONLY TO GOD
Around 496 AD, Pope Gelasius declared that February 14 should be celebrated in the church as the Feast of St. Valentine. But even the Pope recognized that not much was known about the man, his acts “being known only to God.”
This obscure man (or men) is still celebrated today, and not just in the secular world. February 14 is listed on the Calendar of Saints in both Anglican and Lutheran traditions. The Eastern Orthodox Church marks Saint Valentine’s Day, too, but in July. The Roman Catholic Church no longer lists Saint Valentine’s Day on its official liturgical calendar, but still recognizes the one who inspired the holiday as the patron saint of of love, engagement and happy marriages.
It is certain that at least one follower of Christ was named Valentine, and that he did something extraordinary to have his name preserved for all time. How will you follow in the sacrificial steps of St. Valentine, who undoubtedly pledged allegiance to his ultimate love, Jesus? The name “Valentine” means “strong, vigorous, brave.” What can you do to courageously advance the cause of Jesus Christ?