In honor of yesterday being Valentine’s Day, I’m going to break the current string of Alaskan themes here on the Alaska RWA blog and share a little Valentine’s history. I promise this isn’t boring history – it contains bits of legend, a dose of intrigue and, of course, a whole lotta love.
Most church history points to the Roman priest Valentine, martyred in the third century, as the Valentine for whom the holiday was named. The legendary “mists of time” have made tracing the exact truth impossible, but three main legends have survived to explain the beginnings of our modern Day of Romance.
The first legend claims that in In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius decided to turn the Roman festival of Lupercalis/Lupercalia, a pagan fertility celebration observed on February 15, into a Christian celebration to honor martyrs of the faith. He named his holiday after St. Valentine and moved it to February 14th, the day before the old celebration.
A second story, one embraced by both Catholics and Protestants, says Valentine was a bishop during the time of Claudius II, who amassed huge armies of young men to help him in defending his vast empire. Claudius II believed that married men made poor soldiers because they missed their families and fought half-heartedly, so he banned marriage. Bishop Valentine disagreed with this policy and took pity on lovers who desperately wanted to be together. He would bring young couples to a secret place and unite them in marriage. When he was caught and imprisoned, he refused to renounce his faith or his belief in the rite of marriage so he was put to death for his beliefs.
The third legend tweaks Bishop Valentine’s story. It says that once Claudius II found out about the secret marriages, he had Valentine arrested. While in prison, Valentine healed his jailor’s blind daughter and fell in love with her. In a sadly Nicholas Sparks-ish ending, just before Valentine was put to death he sent his love a letter expressing his adoration. He signed it, “Your Valentine.”
With tissues in hand, I have to admit that, as a romance writer, I have to go with the reverse Romeo and Juliet as my favorite story. The idea of a kind-hearted clergyman, willing to sacrifice himself so true lovers can live happily-ever-after just warms my soul a little. He’s my idea of a saint!
We’ve come a long, long way since then. Valentine’s Day is no longer a religious holiday and lovers the world over embrace the romance of the day. We’ve made chocolate (long associated with having aphrodisiac qualities), flowers, greeting cards and sexiness the hallmarks of February 14th. Statistics say that 190 million cards, 110 million roses and $1 billion worth of candy (75% of that chocolate) are purchased annually for Valentine’s Day.
It’s pretty amazing that, in light of what might seem like crass commercialism, the spirit of Valentine’s Day has never changed: lovers, mentors and suitors bringing romance to a world that will never have enough of it.
And, as romance writers and readers, haven’t we just known that forever?
I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day—may your love fests continue even now that the 14th of February has passed.
--- Liz Selvig