Feb. 14 more than chocolate

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Illustration by Estefania B. Alonso

Holiday history stems from pagan roots.

By Pam Paz


Valentine’s Day often induces feelings of butterflies in the stomach and the anxious awaiting of a special delivery to the home or work.

Feb. 14 marks the day of love and is celebrated by more than 62 percent of Americans, according to www.history.com.

It is also observed in many countries across the world, including Canada, Japan and India.

Today, Valentine’s Day is known as a celebration of love and lovers, but its history shares some dark legends and mysteries.

The day originated in Rome as a pagan festival called the Feast of Lupercalia.

During this festival, men struck women with strips of goat and dog hide, believing it made the women fertile, according to the Association of Polytheist Traditions. The festival was Feb. 15.

Afterward, men drew names of women in a matchmaking lottery, and would be coupled for the duration of the festival, which lasted the remainder of the night.

The Roman legend claims Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, were thrown into the Tiber River as babies, by orders of their uncle.

The twins washed ashore and were rescued by a family of wolves, or lupers.

After avenging their uncle, they rediscovered the den, or lupercal, where they were raised, and the first Feast of Lupercalia was in the cave.

According to www.catholic.org, the origin of St. Valentine is still a mystery, but his existence was confirmed when archaeologist Professor Orazio Marucchi unearthed a Roman catacomb and ancient church dedicated to St. Valentine in 1878.

One belief is St. Valentine was a Roman priest martyred for refusing to give up his Christian faith.

Another opinion suggests St. Valentine was a priest jailed and executed around Feb. 14 in 270 A.D. for defying Emperor Claudius II.

St. Valentine later became the patron saint of love and lovers. Pope Gelasius ended the Feast of Lupercalia in 498 A.D., and declared the day to be known as St. Valentine’s Day.

Mike Burton, English, reading and education chair, said the Catholic Church has an amazing ability to incorporate pagan festivals into their liturgical calendars.

Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day all have pagan origins, he said.

He said the process of sublimation — taking a primal, uncontrollable urge and harnessing it into a socially acceptable behavior — has, in part, turned Valentine’s Day into a celebration about love and romance.

“Sex and reproduction is sublimated into romance and love,” he said.

Some scholars suggest romance became linked to Valentine’s Day because of the English and French belief in the Middle Ages that birds began mating Feb. 14.

According to the English city of Hull’s website,  French Duke Charles of Orléans is said to have introduced the tradition of gift and note exchange on Valentine’s Day in 1415, when he wrote a poem to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War.

Illustration by Estefania B. Alonzo

Illustration by Estefania B. Alonzo

The poem is part of a collection at the British Library and begins with these lines:

“I am already sick of love,

My very gentle Valentine,

Since for me you were born too soon,

And I for you was born too late.”

Many things have changed since the days of Duke Charles.

For many, Valentine’s Day emphasizes coupledom and the perfect gift more than real love and affection.

“Capitalism turns everything into a commodity,” Burton said.

The pressure to shower a loved one with gifts and a five-course meal causes undue stress to many people in relationships, according to www.thedailycal.org.


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