Valentine became the patron saint of lovers, but first he was a martyr.
He was from Terni, Italy, but is recognised around the world through gifts and kisses. Also, February 14th isn’t the only date for love in the world.
There is hardly a corner of the world, not just in the West, where love is not celebrated today. But who was St. Valentine and why is his name linked to lovers? The explanations are varied.
Certainly it is hard for poor Valentine, a martyr and for that matter a saint, to have imagined in his lifetime that the day dedicated to him would become the loudest of holidays for lovers.
Who was Valentine?
The best known version of the facts says that he was a Christian bishop who died a martyr in the third century AD. In 270 Emperor Claudius II strongly urged him to convert to paganism; he refused, was imprisoned, stoned, and beheaded.
The Church, during the papacy of Gelasius, chose him in 496 to replace the pagan festival of the Lupercalia which was still in use. On the days between February 13th and 15th in Rome, celebrations were held in honor of Luperco, a deity who protected livestock from wolves.
However, according to other legends, the suckling of Romulus and Remus from the She-wolf was remembered on these days. The rite was linked to fertility.
Since the pope's decision, Saint Valentine has been the patron saint of lovers. He has been the patron saint of his hometown, Terni, since 1644.
He is celebrated with the Valentinian Events, official events throughout the month of February that range from religion to culture including promise festivals for engaged couples, who pledge eternal love in front of the saint's urn, and blessings for golden weddings.
There are several stories that link Valentine's Day with lovers. The first says that during his imprisonment, Valentine fell in love with the daughter of a prison warden.
Thanks to Valentine's prayers, the young woman regained her sight and that the last message to her beloved was signed "from your Valentine."
Another legend says that he was the first to celebrate the union between a pagan legionary and a young Christian girl.
Yet another story tells of his ability to reconcile two lovers by bringing them a rose.
The Middle Ages
The romantic side of Valentine's Day probably dates back to the Middle Ages. The first reference to the festival of lovers can be found in the poem the Parliament of Fowls by Geoffrey Chaucer.
In Paris in the 1400s, February 14th commemorates the founding of the High Court of Love, which was to decide on betrayal, violence and love.
Valentines are the little cards that lovers exchange. The tradition is mainly Anglo-Saxon so much so that there is a valentine card association in the United States. The oldest valentine in memory is said to be one written by Charles of Orleans to his wife while he was locked in the tower of London after being defeated in 1415.
Some say no
Although short-lived, the tradition of vinegar valentines, anti-Valentine's Day cards with rhyming insults, also existed. They were as sour as the vinegar of the name they bore. For maximum effect, they were sent with the wrong stamp or without a stamp so that it would be charged to the recipient. They came into fashion between the late 19th and early 20th centuries and often struck a chord with suffragettes who, in turn, made pro-rights valentines.
It is not February 14th but June 12th that is the Day of Lovers in Brazil. It is the day before the feast day of St. Anthony, the patron saint of marriage. Unmarried women always keep a statuette of the saint, wishing to marry soon.
Portugal's San Gonzalo is prayed to in Amarante by aging women seeking husbands. His statue is to be touched at certain points for love and fertility.
In Japan, it is women who give chocolates, preferably personally prepared, to men on this day. These will be reciprocated exactly one month later, on March 14th, on White Day by offering only white chocolate.
In China, the holiday that corresponds to Western Valentine's Day is called Qixi. It is celebrated in early August, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. It recalls the sad story of two lovers, the fairy Zhinu and the peasant Niulang, who were divided and turned into stars by the fairy's mother.
The Milky Way was created to separate them and they can be seen on only one night a year. Fruit is offered in honor of the fairy to find love.
In Russia, in areas where Orthodox beliefs are strongest, there is no Valentine's Day. Some have even proposed banning it.
In Argentina, they also celebrate the first week of July, with the Semana de la Dulzura, or the Week of Sweetness: a time when kisses are given in exchange for sweets. It is an initiative started in 1989 by Asociación de Distribuidores de Golosinas, Galletitas y Afines to increase the number of sales in the sweets sector. Today, una golosina por un beso, a treat for a kiss, has become a must- do in Argentine society.
Although Valentine's Day has become increasingly popular in recent decades, May 1st is actually the day on which love in all its forms is traditionally celebrated in the Czech Republic.
It has a curious origin actually. It seems, in fact, that the beginning of May was chosen in honor of one of the masterpieces of the Czech Romantic period, Máj, May, written by one of Prague's most important poets, Karel Hynek Mácha.
On the evening of May 1st, it is common custom to make a pilgrimage to Petřín Park, where there is a statue honoring the Czech poet of love par excellence.
How many roses?
The language of flowers is international. They are given in traditional numbers: 108 roses for a marriage proposal, 99 to say eternal love.
One rose is enough for love at first sight; 9 are needed for a romance to go on. 10 are for perfection and 11 say oneness. 13 are for mad passion and 20 for sincere love.
15% of American women send them to themselves on Valentine's Day.
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