The origins and myths of Valentine’s Day

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THROUGHOUT the global world, February 14 is celebrated as Valentine’s Day, a day to declare affection by people who love each other.
It is captured within the Western idea of romance which includes red roses, white tablecloths, wine, long evenings looking and loving each other in the candlelight.
Many ancient European civilisations have celebrated Valentine’s Day. How did all this begin and why should we Africans celebrate this day? Should we?
There are several theories and legends as to the origins of Valentine’s Day.
In one legend, it is argued that Valentine is meant to celebrate the past life of a third century saint.
Some skeptics argue that the origin of Valentine’s Day has nothing to do with Roman martyrs.
Others say Valentine’s Day is to commemorate two saints killed on the same day.
One of the two was a priest and physician who was killed in Rome during the persecution of Christians by Claudius II Grothicus.
The other one was the bishop at Terni who was killed in Rome.
There were celebrations to honour their deaths on February 14.
Another story says that Valentine was a pagan priest in ancient Rome. Then he was thrown in jail for protecting persecuted Christians.
During his jail term, Valentine converted to Christianity.
But instead of being seen as a prophet with extraordinary powers, he was killed and he became a martyr.
Another slightly different version says that in the third century there was a priest called Valentine who defied Emperor Claudius II’s ban against marriages during the war.
He performed secret marriages and when he was discovered, he was put to death.
One day he restored the eyesight of his jailer’s blind daughter and from then on they fell in love.
He maintained a secret correspondence with her.
Before he was sentenced to be executed, he sent her a goodbye letter with the final words written, “From your valentine.”
Since that time, the name Valentine became associated with various forms of love, eroticism and romance over the years.
Another source says that the roots of Valentine’s Day go back to the pagan festivals of third century Rome.
On February 14, the goddess Juno, the queen of women and marriage, also the wife of Jupiter (Zeus) celebrated the Feast of Lupercalia in honour of the God Lupercus, who watched over shepherds and their flocks and kept them safe from wolves just outside Rome.
The festival was celebrated on February 15 on Lupercal on the Palatine Hill the place founded by the twins, Romulus and Remus.
Then Romulus killed his brother in a fit of rage and became the founder of Rome.
By AD 392, such a celebration was seen as pagan and prohibited by an edict of emperor Theodosius I.
Priests then tried to replace old heathen practices with holy ones.
The story was regarded as too pagan and they later converted into a Christian story because it coincided with St. Valentine’s feast.
Thus, the ancient pagan celebration of the Feast of Lubercus changed to St. Valentine’s Day.
To give the celebration further meaning and eliminate pagan traditions, priests substituted the drawing of Saints names for the names of the girls.
There were many attempts to keep adding saints to images of Valentine’s Day.
Another famous story links the origins of Valentine’s Day to the mating of birds.
It was a European belief that on February 14, the birds began to choose their mates.
As a result, this idea meant that lovers could exchange notes and gifts on February 14 during that mating season of birds.
As centuries went by, Valentine’s Day was adopted by the English in the 14th century and they transformed it into a love-fest.
Chaucer first linked the February holiday of Valentine’s Day with romance and to the mating of birds.
Chaucer once wrote in his Parliament of Foules, the following: “For this was Seynt Valentine’s Day when every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”
Such a tradition of birds choosing their mates on February 14 then led to the idea that this should be St. Valentine’s Day where boys and girls also engage in the mating game.
A young man wrote a girl’s name on his shirt sleeve and kept that name hidden for a whole year.
The girl knew that she was the boy’s Valentine and for a whole year as well.
The two lovers kept their secret.
In one book published in 1698, titled Travels in England, it was noted: “On St. Valentine’s Eve an equal number of Maids and Bachelors get together, each writes their true or some feigned name upon separate billets, which they roll up and draw by way of lots, the Maids taking the Men’s billets, and the Men the Maids’…. This ceremony is practised differently in different countries, and according to the freedom or severity of Madame Valentine.”
Later on, Valentine’s Day became an American holiday in the mid 19th century.
Over the years, each culture was giving their own unique way of loving each other on February 14.
In the end, it can be argued that Valentine’s Day was originally a pagan holiday that the Catholic Church changed and made holy while the Protestants embraced it to make it romantic, which is probably why some Europeans also declared that to be the day the birds mated.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated this time of the year in Europe when there is a feeling that winter is coming to an end and spring is in the air.
What has that got to do with us down here in Zimbabwe in the middle of our rain season?
The same also goes for Christmas when we are subjected to a Father Christmas all dressed in winter clothes to protect him from the cold and snow.
We have adopted traditional ceremonies whose history has nothing to do with our own African past.
These celebrations always include a commercial aspect and can be unnecessarily expensive when linked to the notion of Valentine and love.

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