The Possible Origins of Valentine’s Day
You may be surprised to learn that Valentine’s Day is celebrated all over the world. But if we travel back in history, the holiday wasn’t always associated with heart-shaped chocolates, rose bouquets, and romantic love. Accounts of its origins are varied, but some academics suggest that it got its start in ancient Rome.
Roman’s celebrated a pagan holiday from February 13-15 called the feast of Lupercalia. It involved animal sacrifice, a lot of alcohol, ritualistic violence, and a sort of perverse matchmaking. It wasn’t a candy and cards kind of holiday, but it’s possible that this is where modern-day Valentine’s Day got its start.
It’s also possible that the holiday stemmed from an Ancient Roman Emperor’s choice to outlaw marriage for young men. He made this decree in the hope that they would make better soldiers if they didn’t have the commitment of a family. A man named Valentine started to perform marriages in secret. He was eventually put to death, martyred for his crimes.
There are other theories on how the holiday got its start, but it’s mostly speculation. All we know for sure is that it’s globally celebrated with a wide array of traditions. This February, explore a few of those distant traditions.
This year’s Olympic stage, South Korea, celebrates a few variations on Valentine’s Day. From February 14th through April, women buy their significant others chocolate, candies, and flowers. Then, one month later on March 14th, also known as White Day, the tables turn, and men buy the women gifts.
There is also something known as Black Day on April 14th. If you are single, this melancholy day is yours to spend sulking or pining. It’s customary to eat black bean-paste noodles called jajangmyeon.
Valentine’s Day is a more recently celebrated holiday in Denmark, beginning in the 1990s. They’ve taken the holiday and made it unique to their culture, so instead of roses, they exchange pressed white flowers called snowdrops.
They also exchange something called “lover’s cards.” Originally, these were transparent cards that displayed a picture of the card giver. Today, it is a general term used to reference any card exchanged on the holiday.
Finally, Danes also trade letters called gaekkebrev. These “joking letters” include a funny poem, and are signed anonymously. If the woman who receives the letter can guess who it came from, she gets an Easter egg later in the year.
Many people consider France to be one of the most romantic countries in the world. Some people dispute theories that Valentine’s Day began in ancient Rome and claim it actually got its start in 14th century France. It may have stemmed from when the Duke of Orleans sent love letters to his wife while still imprisoned in the Tower of London.
An event called loterie d’amour, or “drawing for love” is a French tradition. Men and women line up on opposite sides of the street and call out to each other, slowly pairing off. That said, men can leave their match if they so choose. Women who don’t find a match gather at a bonfire, screaming insults at the men and burning their pictures. Fun fact: The French government was forced to ban this gathering because it turned into a riot of sorts.
Because Carnival is typically held between February-March, the Brazilian version of Valentine’s Day is celebrated in June. Dia dos Namorados, “Lover’s Day,” is on the eve of Saint Anthony’s Day.
Lover’s Day involves some of the typical exchanges — flowers, cards, chocolates. But there is much more of a focus on musical performances and large festivals. As Saint Anthony is the patron saint of marriage, the following day calls for single women to perform simpatias, rituals to bring love into their lives.
There is so much more to learn about other countries and their traditions. If you want to continue to read up on different cultures and languages, check out our blog!