By Helen Zeidman
Valentine’s Day is a holiday that prompts either intense passion or cold indifference without any gray area in between. People either use the holiday to proclaim their love on this special day or spend the day alone, waiting for the all of chocolate to go on sale. Regardless of how it is celebrated, this holiday has greatly changed from a pagan tradition, to a religious holy day, and finally, to a commercialized holiday used to sell copious amounts of chocolate.
Despite the diapered Cupids and his arrows of love that cover every Valentine’s card, this celebration of romance did not begin with the Greek god of love. True to its name, Valentine’s Day actually originated with the Catholic saint, Valentine of Rome, who was neither a winged baby nor an attractive suitor.
Valentine’s Day was not always a sweet and enjoyable event. As stated by the National Public Radio, the festival of Lupercalia was originally celebrated by the Romans during Feb. 13 to 15 to increase fertility. But, it was not much of a celebration since the main event consisted of beating women and drinking large amounts of medieval alcohol.
Thankfully, the holiday evolved as the Catholic church endeavored to put a positive spin on the pagan tradition. Feb. 14 was changed to a celebration of the martyrdom of St. Valentine instead of a barbaric mating ritual.
Since he lived centuries ago, not everything is known about St. Valentine’s life. But, all of the stories revolving have the same general storyline: a test of faith, an episode of courtly love, religious acts, and martyrdom. The type of religious acts and miracles changes by account, like giving sight to a blind girl or secretly marrying couples in defiance of Roman laws. The only constants are devout faith and a death after defending his faith.
Even though the details are foggy, according to the History Channel, most accounts agree that Valentine’s life was a symbol for platonic and neighborly love more than the lovey-dovey emotions that define the holiday now. He took care of the people around him, even when the Roman government explicitly forbid his faith and kindness.
He was proclaimed as a saint by the Catholic church over a century ago, which may explain the changes to the celebration of his life. Today’s interpretation of Valentine’s Day is extremely different from its roots in amicable and innocent love, but different does not always equal worse. Likewise, the more romantic and modern themes of Valentine’s Day are a far cry from St. Valentine’s original intention, but not necessarily worse. Even though there are no cards with St. Valentine’s face glued to the front, the spirit of love that surrounds the holiday is still true to his original story.
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