Valentine’s Day takes place on February 14 every year. Throughout Vietnam and other places around the world, sweets, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of Saint Valentine.
Valentine has always known that it is the day for people in love. Being in love is of course a true happiness, but no one can say that being single is not fun. So if you’re traveling to Vietnam alone for this special occasion, plan a tour for yourself, get your gear ready and go!
But who is this mysterious saint and where do these traditions come from? Learn about the meaning and history of Valentine’s Day, from the ancient Roman ritual of Lupercalia that welcomed spring to the card-making customs of Victorian England.
The Legend of Saint Valentine
Where does Valentine’s Day come from? The holiday’s history – and the story of its patron saint – is shrouded in mystery. We know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that Saint Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains remnants of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with this ancient rite?
The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. A legend has it that Valentine was a priest who served in Rome in the third century. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men were better soldiers than men with wives and families, he banned marriage to young men. Realizing the injustice of the decree, Valentine defied Claudius and continued to secretly perform marriages for young lovers. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Still others claim it was Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop, who was the real namesake of the holiday. He too was beheaded outside Rome by Claudius II.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been murdered because he was trying to help Christians escape from the harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “Valentine’s Greeting” himself after falling in love with a young girl – possibly the daughter of his jailer – who visited him during his incarceration. He is said to have written her a letter before his death, signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. While the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all highlight his appeal as a lovable, heroic, and most importantly, romantic figure. In the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.
Origins of Valentine’s Day: A Pagan Festival in February
While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in mid-February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial – which probably took place around AD 270 – others argue that the Christian Church may have decided to celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day in the middle of February in a attempt to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated on the ides of February or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.
To kick off the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, gathered in a sacred cave where the babies Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were nursed by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests sacrificed a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. They would then strip the goatskin into strips, dip them in the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, beating both women and fields gently with the goatskin. Far from being frightened, Roman women welcomed the touch of the skins as it was believed that they would become more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, legend has it that all the young women in the city would put their names in a large urn. The town’s bachelors would each choose a name and be matched with their chosen woman for the year. These matches often ended in marriage.
Valentine’s Day Meaning: A Day Full Of Romance And Love
Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity, but was banned at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as Valentine’s Day – because it was considered “unchristian.” However, it was not until much later that the day was definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was widely believed in France and England that February 14 was the start of the bird mating season, adding to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance. The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to record St. Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday in his 1375 poem “Parliament of Foules”, in which he wrote: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / When every mistake comes to choose his measure.”
Valentine’s Day greetings were popular as early as the Middle Ages, although Valentine’s Day writing didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. he was imprisoned in the Tower of London after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The salute is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) Several years later, King Henry V is believed to have hired a scribe named John Lydgate to write a valentine for Catherine of Valois.
Who is Cupid?
Cupid is often depicted on Valentine’s Day cards as a naked cherub firing arrows of love at unsuspecting lovers. But the Roman god Cupid has its roots in Greek mythology as the Greek god of love, Eros. Accounts of his birth vary; some say he is the son of Nyx and Erebus; others, of Aphrodite and Ares; still others suggest he is the son of Iris and Zephyrus or even Aphrodite and Zeus (who would have been both his father and grandfather).
According to the Greek archaic poets, Eros was a handsome immortal who played with the emotions of gods and men, using golden arrows to arouse love and lead arrows to sow loathing. It wasn’t until the Hellenistic period that he was portrayed as the mischievous, chubby child he had become on Valentine’s Day cards.
Typical Valentine’s Day Greetings and Gifts
In addition to Vietnam, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia. In Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century.
By the mid-18th, it was common for friends and loved ones of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards had begun to replace written letters as a result of improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions at a time when expressing their feelings directly was discouraged. Cheaper postage also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.
Americans probably started exchanging handmade Valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” Howland made elaborate creations using real lace, ribbons, and colorful graphics known as “scrap.” According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest holiday of the year to send cards (more cards are sent at Christmas).