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The origins of 'Valentine’s Day'

St. Valentine
St. Valentine

Candies, flowers, candle lit dinners at expensive restaurants, jewelry, and such are what “Valentine’s Day” is all about. But I wonder how many know the dark side of this romantic day celebrated by countless people throughout the world.

Like most holidays which are observed, people rarely enlighten themselves with the reasons behind these celebrations. Over a period of time it all boils down to money and profit for the merchants and a whole lot of pressure for the consumers.

The holiday is rooted in both Pagan and Christian history. The Pagan origin of “Valentine’s Day” is found in the Roman festival of fertility called Lupercalia which was dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus, as well as the Roman founders, Romulus and Remus. The festival began with the members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests who would gather at a sacred cave which was believed to be the site where Romulus and Remus were taken care of as infants by a she-wolf. A goat, for fertility, and a dog for purification would be sacrificed. The priests took the goat’s hide, made them into strips, and dipped them in sacrificial blood. These blood soaked hides would then be used to hit women and crop fields. The women welcomed this ritual as this meant they would become more fertile the following year. The legend continues that these women placed their names in a big urn which would be picked out by the city’s bachelors and subsequently become paired with the chosen women for the year. Sometimes these matches would end up in marriage.

The Catholic Church went about attempting to “Christianizing” the Pagan festival by marking it as a day to commemorate the martyrdom of St. Valentine. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints who bore the name Valentine or Valentinus. One legend states that Valentine was a priest who lived during the time of Emperor Claudius II. The Emperor’s belief was that soldiers who were married did not fight gallantly in wars and thus decided that they should remain celibate. Valentine, on the other hand, believed the Emperor’s decree to be unjust and in defiance continued to perform marriages for the young lovers in secret. When Emperor Claudius II came to know about the actions of Valentine, he immediately called for his execution.

In another story, Valentine may have possibly been killed as he tried to help Christian prisoners escape the harsh Roman prisons and became a prisoner himself who was tortured. It is said that Valentine fell in love with the jailor’s daughter and sent her a letter signed “From your Valentine”, right before he died. Valentine subsequently became the most popular saint in the “Middle Ages”.

Today, “Valentine’s Day” is celebrated in many parts of the world as a day of expressing love. But the question is, why does there have to be a single day set aside to shower our near and dear ones with undying love? “Valentine’s Day” has turned out to be a big business holiday. The market research firm IBIS World states that “Valentine's Day” sales reached $17.6 billion last year; this year's sales are expected to total $18.6 billion. It is a popular day for couples to get engaged and married. Whenever a holiday becomes highly commercialized and materialistic, it loses the real essence. We teach our kids from the moment they enter school that we need to show our love to others only on one day of the entire year. They learn from an early age that love can only be expressed by spending money. They learn that expensive gift equates to more love.

Love is not measured in how big the card is or how beautiful the flowers are. Love is kindness shown on a daily basis. Waking up each morning with a smile is love. Helping each other in the most mundane affairs of our daily life is love. Sitting next to your child and watching a show for the umpteenth time despite the fact that you find it boring, is love. Sure, bring flowers for your wife, but don’t leave it for that one day of the year only. Let’s celebrate love everyday of the year.

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