Legends, History, and Spirit of Valentine's Day Celebration

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.

Also see from Archives:

by Dr. Eugene D’Souza, Moodubelle
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Comment on this article

  • A.D'Cunha Shenoy, Mangaluru

    Mon, Feb 15 2010

    Mr Gowda, sorry this is aspell error. it should be "confines".

  • Iqbal, Mangalore

    Sun, Feb 14 2010

    Good comment from Mr. Niran,all those responsible men who do not forget that they have sisters and daughters ,will think exactly like you.

  • Niran, Suratkal

    Sun, Feb 14 2010

    Dear Dev Mangalore,will you tolerate if your own sister or your daughter enjoying with boys with the kind of ways you narrated in your comments.

  • latheef kodagu, al kobar k.s.a

    Sun, Feb 14 2010

    Happy valentine day

  • Sunil D'Souza, Mangalore

    Sun, Feb 14 2010

    Dear Mr. Gowda. I guess before commenting on Mr. Shenoy's statement, you ought to travel the rest of India , especially the Northen side. Things are really different and what you call as a Indian Family as a HAPPY FAMILY may not really be true. There are different people out there with wierd family issues. Try movin out of Karnataka. Karnataka for that matter is a very very good place to live. I have travelled most of Indian states and have been there and interacted with people.

  • Felix F., India/Ksa

    Sun, Feb 14 2010

    The spirit of Valentines day is good, but the way it is celebrated by the majority who are not married or engaged, and majority of the commercial programmes that are held hotels, private clubs etc are not in line with any culture or religion, be it Indian or foreign.

  • Emanuel, Adiss Abeba(Ethiopia)

    Sun, Feb 14 2010

    Wonderfuell valentin article! HAVE A NICE VALENTINE DAY!!

  • Anand Dsilva, Mangalore

    Sat, Feb 13 2010

    Mr Kiran Gowda, what Mr Dcunha Shenoy has written should be read as confine not coffin. Spelling error.

  • ASHOK, Udupi/Dubai

    Sat, Feb 13 2010

    This is not our Hindustani Culture. We love our sweet heart every day. Since we gave home to foreign cultures let them celeberate Valentine's day.

  • Kiran Gowda, Kuthethoor

    Sat, Feb 13 2010

    Dear D'cunha shenoy,I oppose your word coffin to homes as we call Maneye matralaya".You guys change homes and change ... as you wish,you continue to do so,but dont try to preach others the same as you know real Indian family is the happiest family irrespective if they are rich or poor.

  • Dev, Mangalore

    Sat, Feb 13 2010

    Happy Valentines Day for all the lovers. Our ancient scriptures are replete with love & elopements,SriKrishna being 'suthradari' in some episodes. Our past (late)CM JHPatel said I adore Srikrishna more than anybody-for this reason. Can our culture cleansers dare to stop Dhandiya & Garbha in Gujarath- where(&when) more condoms are sold in the entire state,& more girls approach medical practioners for preganancy test afterwords? Valentines day is nothing compared to This. Our ancient culture was more tolerant & wanted men & women to get together for future belongs to them.

  • abdulrub, Saudi Arabia

    Sat, Feb 13 2010

    Happy Valentine Day to everybody and enjoyed your wonderfull day.

  • Niran, Suratkal

    Sat, Feb 13 2010

    Wishing all so called forward thinking class happy and safe valentine day.Pray you guys love the same guy/gal thoughout your life but not only on Feb 14.Also be sure that your does not yield after 9th month as our orphanages are full and there are less donors nowadays.

  • cyril mathias, udupi

    Sat, Feb 13 2010

    If expression of love is considered obscene,then most of the ancient temples may have to be destroyed as there are lot of sculptures depicting gods and goddesses indulging in open sexy acts.Love is as old as humanity.Let love prevail the world so that there are no bombs and bloodshed.It is a nice and timely article.

  • Lydia Lobo, Kadri

    Sat, Feb 13 2010

    Happy Valentines day to all. For once I agree with fanatics' arguments 'why love only on 14th Feb.' therefore I wish love and bond among all of you throughout the year - let there be no enemy in your surroundings. Peace... Nagesh Nayak.. peace.. from my side. Vicky Chopra, wrong assumption. Medically it takes nine months 10 days for a human baby to come out of mother's womb. This is with the exception of premature babies of-course.

  • Vicky Chopra, Udipi/New Delhi

    Sat, Feb 13 2010

    Happy Valentine’s Day and advance 'Children's day' falls on 14th Nov..after Nine months..

  • Joseph F. Gonsalves, Bannur, Puttur/ Mangalore

    Sat, Feb 13 2010

    Wishing all of you the daijiworld team, the commentators, the viewers, well wishers a very pleasant and a very happy Valentine day. My special wishes to Mr. Nagesh Nayak, the Rama Sena leaders and members, BJDL leaders and members, VHP leaders and members, Congress leaders and supporters, the bjp leaders and supporters and all Thackeray's. Have a nice, good day to all of you and happy valentine day.

  • Nischal Ferrao & Fly, Belman/Muscat

    Sat, Feb 13 2010

    Nice article. We wish all Daiji World readers a very Happy Valentines Day.

  • A.D'Cunha Shenoy, Mangaluru

    Sat, Feb 13 2010

    Very informative to read and understand. My opinion is this so called Valentine day has been a public displayed love and affection has been promoted by big card companies and has been a craze in recent years in India. THis craze of celebration seldom exists in the Western world although the day has been observed. Ram Sene is opposing it due to Indian culural ethos. I think they dont like a public display of love and affection but has to be love and affection everyday within cofines of their homes.

  • STALIN MISQUITH, mangalore\Bahrain

    Sat, Feb 13 2010


  • Malika Nuritdinova, Tashkent

    Sat, Feb 13 2010

    I enjoyed your article about Valentine's Day. And I am glad to be the first, who writes a comment on this article. I would like to know more information about English celebrations. Good luck!

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