February 14th is the most romantic day of the year. Valentine's Day heralds’ pink hearts, heart shaped candy, red roses and if you are lucky - a good old Valentine’s Day card (preferably hand-made or at the very least accompanied by a pun like ‘you are one in a melon’). This Valentine’s Day weekend, we look back at the origins of the day of love and compare the thens and nows of Valentine’s Day.
While Valentine’s Day brings out the most romantic occasions for the year, oddly enough, the origins of this day was somewhat, err - not so romantic. There’s of course, a lot of debate about the origins of Valentine’s Day but most historians would concur that the holiday’s earliest iteration comes from an Ancient Roman fertility festival called ‘Lupercalia’ that took place from February 13 to the 15. The feast was far from romantic as the festivities included Roman priests sacrificing goats and dogs and using strips of their hides dipped in their blood to whip women on the belief that it would make them fertile. The only inkling of romance to this festival was the matchmaking ritual where men and women were paired off by choosing names of their sweetheart…from an urn.
While Valentine’s Day brings out the most romantic occasions for the year, oddly enough, the origins of this day was somewhat, err - not so romantic.....
Valentine's Namesake – Saint Valentine
Much like its origins, there is debate around which Saint Valentine the Valentine’s Day celebrates but the most popular and the most fitting is of a Roman priest called Saint Valentine who used to perform wedding ceremonies in secret at a time where marriage was outlawed, when Roman Emperor Claudius II decreed that married men do not make good warriors and therefore young men could not marry. Saint Valentine’s secret ceremonies were ousted and he was beheaded and legend says that his farewell note signed off as ‘From Your Valentine’ – hence the namesake celebrations in his honour.
for the Lovers
The legend of Saint Valentine may have set the groundwork for what Valentine's Day is today but the real developments came from a medieval poet named Geoffrey Chaucer, who back in 1381, wrote a poem referencing Saint Valentine in finding true love (‘For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate’). The notion was picked up by other poets and authors, including Shakespeare, and Valentine’s Day – celebrating true love and the lovers – was born.
Valentine's Day over
By the end of the 15th century, the word ‘Valentine’ was used in every book, poem and song to describe a lover. By the 17th century, the tradition of giving flowers to loved ones on Valentine’s Day originated when King Charles II of Sweden popularised attaching meanings to different types of flowers. Roses became the symbol of Valentine’s Day due to its association with the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. By the 18th century, a book called ‘The Young Man’s Valentine Writer’ was published in England. By mid -19th century, Valentine’s cards were being mass produced and come the 21st century, Valentine's Day is one of the most commercialised holidays of the year.
Then vs. Now
Looking back at Valentine’s Day many years ago – a lot has changed. It certainly wasn’t as serious back then as it is now. At best, there were candy hearts, hand-made cards and a rose or two involved. Fast forward to 2021, we are booking 6-course dinners at a fine dining restaurant, picking up the biggest bouquet of flowers from the shop (you know roses are very last season, yes?) and finding the puniest card on the internet.
Of course, the biggest change to Valentine’s Day over the last 25 years is that Valentine’s Day is no longer exclusively for the lovers. It is a celebration of your love for anyone and everyone – for your significant other, for your friends, for your family, for your co-workers, for your pet or even just a celebration of self-love for yourself.
Valentine’s Day is officially a thing now. It was initially a phrase that was coined on the TV-show Parks and Recreation but it is now a real-life extension of Valentine’s Day for women to show their appreciation for the platonic female friendships that are filled with love and support for each other (also a perfect excuse to get together and indulge in some luxury beverages).
While a decade ago, establishments would go out of their way to prepare romantic dinners and events for couples – many are now curating events for the ‘singles’ on Valentines Day, mostly with the promise that you just might meet the love of your life at it.
It has also become a day to celebrate yourself. Cue businesses promoting under the tagline ‘why should Valentine’s Day be only for the couples?’ with self-love hampers and care kits for one. Romance yourself; buy yourself those heart shaped artisan chocolates or take yourself out for an expensive meal – one doesn’t need a significant other to celebrate the most romantic day of the year.
At the end of the day, if you are trying to figure out what to do this Valentine’s day – just know that there are no rules; it’s a new era and in 2021, you can celebrate the day of love, however you want to. Happy Valentine’s Day from us to you!