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Celebrating love: part 1 of 4, the history

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Every year, February 14th is set aside as a holiday to celebrate love. Interestingly, it has world-wide participation. How did it begin?

For thousands of years, February has been celebrated as a month of romance. The true history of Valentine’s Day is filled with conflicting accounts. However, almost all agree it came from ancient Rome and has both pagan and Christian roots.

In ancient Rome, citizens celebrated an annual pagan fertility festival, the Feast of Lupercalia. Dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus, and Rome’s founders, Romulus and Remus, it occurred on the ides of February (the 15th.)

According to legend, the Feast of Lupercalia had many interesting traditions. To begin the ceremonies each year, members of the Luperci (an order of Roman priests) gathered at the “sacred cave” where they believed the infants Romulus and Remus, were nurtured by a she-wolf (“lupa.”)

It was there where they sacrificed two animals: a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. They also practiced other gory and barbaric rituals to begin the festival.

Later in the day, the young women placed their names in a large urn. Afterwards, the bachelors chose a name from that vessel. The two were paired for the rest of the year. Often, these “matches” ended in marriage.

The Lupercalia Feast thrived until about 496 A.D. Then Pope Gelasius thought it “un-Christian.” He outlawed it. In honor of the martyred St. Valentine two centuries previous, he proclaimed February 14th as “St. Valentine’s Day.” However, that date became associated with love much later.

The Catholic Church recognizes three martyrs who became saints, all named Valentine or Valentinus. The priest associated with the holiday lived in Rome during the third century.

Around 279 A.D., Roman Emperor, Claudius II (a.k.a “Claudius the Cruel”, decided single men made better soldiers than those with wives and children. Therefore, he outlawed marriage for young men.

Priest Valentine thought that was a horrible injustice. Defying the law, he secretly continued to perform marriages for young lovers. However, once caught, he was ordered jailed, tortured, and then beheaded.

Legend says while Valentine was imprisoned, he fell in love with a young woman (possibly the jailer’s daughter) who visited him. Before his death, he actually sent the first “valentine.” He wrote her a letter confessing his feelings and signed it, “from your Valentine.” That phrase is still used today.

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