Feb 14, 2010
Valentine’s Day is a special day observed on 14th February every year that celebrates love and affection. On this day people send greetings cards called ‘valentines’ to their sweethearts, friends and even members of their families. Many valentine cards have humorous pictures while others contain romantic verses. Many cards have common phrase as, “Be my valentine.”
Valentine’s Day is associated with St. Valentine, believed to be two martyrs of the early Christian Church. However, very little is known about these two martyrs except the fact that the Roman history of martyrs mentions about two saints named Valentine who were martyred on 14th February. Scholars have found it quite difficult in finding the authenticity of the legends associated with St. Valentine.
There are few legends that associate the name of St. Valentine with love and affection. According to one legend Valentine was a priest in Rome during the third century. When the Emperor of Rome, Claudius II planned to have a powerful army, he felt that young unmarried men would become better soldiers than those who had wives and children. Thus, the emperor issued a decree prohibiting marriage for young men. Realizing the injustice of the decree, Valentine continued to perform marriages of young lovers in secret, thus defying the royal decree. When it was found by the emperor that Valentine was violating his decree, he ordered the execution of Valentine.
According to another legend, Valentine was in fact the first one to send the 'valentine' greeting to someone he loved. It is believed that while in prison, Valentine fell in love with a young girl, probably one of the daughters of the jailor who used to visit him during his imprisonment. Before he was put to death on the orders of Emperor Claudius II, it is said that Valentine wrote a letter to the jailor’s daughter and signed it as 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today.
Another story says that Valentine was an early Christian who made friends with many children. When the Romans imprisoned him as he refused to worship their gods, the children missed Valentine and tossed loving notes through the window of his cell. This story explains why people exchange messages on the Valentine’s Day. Another tale narrates the fact that Valentine restored the sight of his jailor’s blind daughter.
Though there is no historical proof behind these legends associated with Valentine, with the passage of time the legends popularised the name of Valentine as the one who was sympathetic, heroic and romantic figure. As the legend of Valentine grew, St. Valentine became one of the most popular saints in France and England during the medieval period.
There is no unanimity among different scholars as to how and when Valentine’s Day originated. Some trace it to an ancient Roman festival called ‘Lupercalia’. Others link it with one or more saints of the early Christianity. Still others connect it with the old English belief that birds choose their mates on 14th February. Most probably, Valentine’s Day came to observed due to the combination of all three of these sources. Besides, spring is considered as a time for lovers.
Many believe that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to 'Christianize' celebrations of the Roman pagan feast ‘Lupercalia’ festival. In ancient Rome, February was the official beginning of spring and was considered a time for purification. Houses were ritually cleansed by sweeping them out and then sprinkling salt and a type of wheat throughout their interiors. Lupercalia, which was celebrated on 15th February was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.
To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or ‘lupa’. The priests would then sacrifice a goat for fertility, and a dog for purification.
Following this ritual, the boys would slice the goat's hide into strips, dip them in the sacrificial blood and move around the streets gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goat hide strips. The Roman women welcomed the gentle whipping by the boys as it was believed that the strips would make them more fertile in the coming year. According to legend, later in the evening all the young women in the city would place their names in a big pot. The city's bachelors would then each choose a name out of the pot and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage. It is said that Pope Gelasius declared 14th February as St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D.
The earliest records of Valentine’s Day in English tell that birds chose their mates on that day. Geoffrey Chaucer, an English poet of the 1300’s, wrote in ‘The Parliament of Fowls,’ “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, /When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.” Shakespeare, the famous English play write also makes a reference to St. Valentine’s Day in his play ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
By the middle of the eighteenth century in England, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Readymade cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one's feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine's Day greetings.
Americans probably began exchanging handmade valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland of Worcester in Massachusetts became one of the first in the United States to manufacture valentines in 1847 after seeing one from England. She began to make samples of the valentines and took orders from stores. Later, she hired more hands to produce valentines on a large commercial scale. Since then handwritten valentines have largely given way to mass-produced greeting cards and Valentine's Day has become the second-largest greeting card-sending holiday in the United States after only Christmas.
Many valentines of the nineteenth century were hand painted. Some of them featured a fat cupid or showed arrows piercing a heart. Many cards had satin ribbon or lace trim. Others were decorated with dry flowers or other fancy items. From the mid-nineteenth century till the beginning of the twentieth century many people used comic valentines called ‘penny dreadfuls’ as these cards were sold for a penny and featured certain insulting verses. Modern Valentine's Day symbols include the heart shaped outlines, doves and the figures of the winged Cupid.
With liberalization and globalization since late twentieth century, Valentine's Day celebration has caught the imagination and fancy of people in India, especially in urban centres among the young people. Though the tradition bound Indian society sees this phenomenon as an adoption of western culture, there is a growing number of people who appreciate the meaning and feelings behind this beautiful and romantic festival.
The Indian youth, like in several other countries also celebrate Valentine's Day by exchanging cards and gifts and attending Valentine Day parties. The hype created by the television, internet and print media has resulted in the commercialisation of Valentine’s day on a large scale as other social occasions and religious festivals. The gift shops make a kill by selling valentine cards and gifts of various kinds catering to the taste of every type of valentine. Shopping malls in metropolitan cities organize fun-filled competitions and distribute discount coupons to lure the consumers.
In cities and towns young people throng to the restaurants, discos and pizza parlours as couples celebrate 14th February as the day of togetherness. On this day people also express their love and affection to their friends, brothers and sisters, parents and teachers. Other than cards, Valentine Day gifts and greetings include fresh flowers, chocolates, soft toys and candies.
As Valentine Day celebrations on 14th February has been catching up with the Indian youth, there has been a sustained campaign against the observance of this day in India by certain fundamentalist Hindu groups such as the Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena and Ram Sena. They argue that such practices of expressing love and affection in public places is against the Indian culture and tradition. It is western influence that corrupts and pollutes Indian culture and hence its celebration has to be discouraged and prevented, if need be by using violence and intimidating the people who venture to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Rather than educating and motivating the young people not to celebrate the Valentine’s Day, as they believe that it against the ethos of Indian culture, these fundamentalist groups have been targeting shops and malls selling Valentine Day Cards and gifts or intimidating young couples who were found together either in parks or restaurants. There was an incident earlier in which these ‘moral police’ had beaten up a brother and his sister as they were walking together on the Valentine’s Day.
There have been reports that in many parts of South India, couples who were found in parks and other public places were immediately forced to marry on the spot by these fundamentalist groups, especially Ram Sene. As Valentine Day approaches the law enforcing agencies are on tenterhooks as they had to see to it that the situation does not spiral out of control.
While writing this report, the TV screen splashed the news that some young people have blackened the face of Mr. Pramod Muthalik, the leader of the Rama Sene for once again threatening to disrupt Valentine Day celebrations. In retaliation, the Rama Sene has called for bandh in Karnataka.
Though the name of St. Valentine with whom the special day to celebrate one of the supreme emotions of living beings-love and affection is associated shrouded with legends and myths, the fact remains that there had been this practice in different countries of Europe since the early medieval age and gradually spread far and wide with the expansion of Europe through exploration and colonization. Whatever the origin and from wherever it has spread, emotions of love and affection are universal and without moorings in any particular religion or culture. So, let us give up hatred and violence and promote understanding, love and affection towards one and all.
(From various sources)
Happy Valentine’s Day.
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