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The origins of Valentine's Day


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 The origins of Valentine's Day (Photo: iStock)

February 14 is the most intense "love day" celebrated globally with mystical and treasure-trove ways used to mark the day - activities that have become synonymous with a 24-hour period of extravaganza in matters of love.

On this day, love and affection for someone special are conveyed through pink hearts, chocolate, candy, red roses, expensive dinners and getaways and a good old-fashioned Valentine's Day card.

Nevertheless, while the annual love fest has become one of the most "special treats" filled days of the year, the fact is, the true history of the day is neither as sweet nor a love fairly-tale that it represents today. The origin of Valentine's has nothing to do with the intense, deep feeling associated with love. It was a case of pagan rituals and a sad story of the execution of someone.

Thus, with its origins as a pagan ritual for fertility, Valentine's Day has evolved over the centuries from martyrdom, religious politics, beheadings and industrialization to become a day of celebration of love, among them romantic love that stands out.

Historical beginnings

Legend one: The origins of Valentine's Day remain murky to date, but many historians have connected it to the Ancient Roman feast of Lupercalia, held on February 13 to 15. During these festivities, Roman priests sacrificed a goat and a dog, using strips of the animals' hikes dipped in blood to whip women in the belief that it would make them more fertile. Reportedly, the ritual also included a matchmaking session where bachelors selected their "sweetheart" from an urn.

Legend two: During Julius Caesar's reign, at least three martyred Saint Valentines were recognised by the Catholic Church, making it tricky to identify the real Valentine behind what has come to be a day of celebration of romantic love and a major business affair. Popular legend has it that Roman Emperor Claudius II executed one catholic follower named Valentine of Terni, on February 14 around 278 A.D. He was accused of performing marriage ceremonies in secret after the Emperor had outlawed marriages in order to encourage men to join the army. Supposedly, Valentine signed a farewell note before he was beheaded thus: "From Your Valentine".

The legend says that after the beheading and after the church had raised him to sainthood, hundreds of lovers would visit his grave on the 14th of February to swear love and faithfulness in front of Saint Valentine's grave near the Basilica of Tirni in Rome. In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as the First Feast Day of St Valentine. The real meaning of this act by the Pope is still debated.

The Transition

Many years later, the day has undergone evolution and transformation to be what it is today - a day to show and declare love, never mind the commercial aspect. In 1375, the great poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, became the first to link the day to love and romance through his poem Parliament of Fouls. William Shakespeare would follow suit and not long after, the exchanging of handmade cards and tokens became popular in England. Charles, Duke of Orleans was the first to send Valentine's card to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415.

Later in the 17th Century, the tradition of giving flowers would enter the scene through King Charles II of Sweden when he popularised "the language of flowers". The traditional type of flower for Valentine's Day became the rose because of its association with the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite.

Modern Valentine's Day

Celebrations and the commercialisation of Valentine's Day gained popularity through the 19th Century when the greeting card industry entered the industry in full swing, thanks to the Industrial Revolution's printing press. Esther A. Howland, popularly known as "The Mother of the Valentine" introduced the first mass-produced cards in America in the 1840s. The industry and the celebration of Valentine's Day grew enormously with the entry of the Hallmark cards in 1913. Today, Greeting Card Association estimates that loved ones send approximately 145 million cards around the world every year.

Galentine's Day

The evolution of Valentine's Day is a continuous process. Another celebration that is growing and turning to be an extension of Valentine's Day is Galentine's Day which is marked on the 13th of February. The phrase was coined on the TV show Parks and Recreation, but it has turned out to be a real-life extension of Valentine's Day.

Galentine Day gives an opportunity for women to recognise and show their appreciation for platonic female friendships filled with love and support. The day is gaining momentum coming in hot pursuit of the wave of female empowerment and the increased emphasis that younger generations are placing on their friendship in addition to romantic and family relationships.

It looks like the story of Valentine's Day's complete evolvement has not come full circle. Closer home, Kenyan men are bringing another dimension to the globally celebrated day of romantic love. Men's Conference, which took considerable media and social media space last year. It is rumoured that the conference is meant to counter the activities of February 14th where men pay hefty bills (physically and monetary-wise) proving to their spouses and girlfriends how much they love them.

There you have it. Who knows, by the end of the decade probably Valentine's Day will have evolved to yet another version - Malentine's day!

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