Wherefore Art Thou St. Valentine?

happy-valentines-day-2014by Janice Limbaugh


Valentine’s Day manages to be one of the biggest holidays in the U.S. Over 62% of Americans celebrate it, spending an average of $20 billion in the process. Millions of couples make it their wedding day. So I wondered, how did this humble 5th century tradition morph love into a huge money-making industry?


Grade school was probably the last time I did any kind of report on St. Valentine and the holiday. Because my memory is rather fuzzy about the details, I decided to search the Internet on the subject. WHOAH! Be careful what you search for –  it might lead to TMI – too much information – Enough to blow the socks off an innocent little cherub just wanting to spread the love!


For example, did you know that Valentine’s Day has its origins from the heyday of  the Roman Empire where on February 14th they honored Juno, Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses? The real fun started the very next day on the Feast of Lupercalia, to honor the God of Fertility. It was the one day of the year when teenage boys and girls were allowed to mingle with each other.  The names of all the girls were written on pieces of paper the night before the festival and placed in a jar. The boys would randomly select  a girl by pulling her name out. The pairs were allowed to hang-out together during the festival and throughout the entire year. As human nature would have it,  many of the young couples fell in love and would eventually marry.


That was all fine and good until Emperor Claudius II – a.k.a. – Claudius the Cruel – outlawed all marriages because he believed the men would refuse to leave their loving wives to fight in battle. But despite the law, Claudius couldn’t stop love. Couples still fell in love and wished to be married so they took the issue to the Catholic Bishop Valentine.


Now this is where the story gets interesting.


Apparently Bishop Valentine had a soft spot for love because he began to marry couples secretly. But when Claudius the Cruel found out, the bishop was arrested and ordered to be put to death. Fortunately for Bishop Valentine, his sentence took some time to be carried out, probably due to bureaucratic paperwork. While he waited for his execution, he began exchanging letters with the jailer’s daughter and fell in love with her. Now that’s what I call bad timing. According to my Internet source, the bishop wrote his love one last note on the day he was to be beheaded and signed it: From Your Valentine!


Perhaps this is where Hallmark got the idea?SaintValentine_thumb


A couple hundred years later when Christianity had taken over and pagan festivals were outlawed, Pope Gelasius set aside a day in February to honor the martyr St. Valentine. However, some other research I came across states there were three Christian clerics named Valentine, each martyred and deserving rights to St. Valentine’s Day. Love can be so confusing!

flower heart


But through the ages, one thing is for sure: Mankind loves to be in love! It’s symbolism reaches back to the Roman Gods. Take the epic red rose for example. The rose was sacred to Venus, the Goddess of Love. Giving red roses at any time of the year is regarded an act of love. Then there is the heart of Valentine’s Day. It was once believed that the heart was the center of all emotion. People believed that when they gave a heart, they were truly giving all of their love and emotion to another. During the Middle Ages, men would pull a woman’s name out of a bowl to be his Valentine. To show his devotion, the man would wear the woman’s name on his sleeve for a week, eventually coining the phrase, “wearing your heart on your sleeve.” And if Valentines-day-that wasn’t enough to warm the cockles of one’s heart, Cupid would do the job. Cupid is a Roman God and the son of Venus. Cupid, through a love story of his own, used an arrow to pierce hearts and awaken them to love.


This time around doing my Valentine’s research, I learned that Hallmark didn’t invent the holiday after all. The custom of giving cards, candy, flowers and kisses on Valentine’s Day has been around for generations. Madison Avenue just knows how to play on our emotions and turn a large profit. So I ask, what does love have to do with it? EVERYTHING!


Click on the following links to find love in all the right places around West Michigan.