Valentine's Day (14th February)

Valentine’s day is associated with romantic love between partners, and usually celebrated with gifts, cards and special time spent together.

Valentine's Day

History of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is sometimes considered one of the most commercial holidays. It’s responsible for more greeting card sales than any other holiday bar Christmas. However, like other holidays, St Valentine’s Day actually has a very long history and, like Christmas, it’s really an amalgamation of different traditional festivals into one.

Fertility

One likely source of inspiration for the festival is an ancient Roman fertility festival – the Lupercalia festival, which used to be celebrated on February 15th. Before the festival, a ritual clean of the house would be carried out. On the day itself, a goat would be sacrificed, and its hide cut into strips. Two young men would then dip the strips into blood, run around the area around the city, and use them to smack the plants in the fields and the women they happened to come across for symbolic fertilisation. In the evening, according to legend, a lottery would take place, where the city’s bachelors drew the name of the city’s young women out of an urn, and were matched up with them for the year. These matches would often result in marriages. All in all, the festival would probably not be considered particularly romantic by most people.

In Medieval times, another fertility-related superstition added to the myth of the middle of February: people believed that this was when birds would start their mating season. This belief coincided with February 14th, the date of St Valentine’s Day, and some suggest that the “romantic” aspect of the day had more to do with beliefs about birds than with the known accomplishments of any saint.

The Saints

February 14th has been St Valentine’s Day for hundreds of years – but no one is sure which St Valentine is being celebrated. Through a strange coincidence, three separate Saints called Valentine were all allegedly martyred on a February 14th. Not much is known about any of their saintly activities. The least well known of them has been all but forgotten. All that is remembered is that he was declared a saint, and that he died in Africa, one February 14th. No one knows what year, why he’s a saint, or anything else about him, except that he died. It is widely believed that he was not the saint celebrated on February 14th by the Catholic Church.

A different St Valentine (Valentine of Rome) died in a Roman prison – though whether through execution or illness is up for debate. There are legends that he died for love – although the legends are varied and disputed. One legend says he continued to perform marriage ceremonies after they were banned by the emperor (the emperor wanted to increase the number of bachelors, as they were believed to make better soldiers than married men). Another legend says he died for Christian Love – i.e. for refusing to give up his faith. A third legend says he gave a note to a young woman (a jailor’s daughter in some versions), signed “Your Valentine”. This St Valentine died around 270AD.

The third St Valentine, Valentine of Terni, was a bishop. Allegedly, he performed miracles, healed people, and was persecuted and beheaded, possibly around 170AD. Some historians believe that Valentine of Terni and Valentine of Rome may have been the same person, as the historic record is inconclusive on either of them.

There was also a fourth Valentine – or rather, Valentinius – of some significance in Christian history. Valentinius of Alexandria was an influential Gnostic philosopher/leader. While he is by far the most famous of early Christian Valentines, he is not celebrated on Valentine’s Day. Gnostics were the targets of several crusades and genocides in the Middle Ages and Gnosticism went extinct as result.

Despite there being three separate Saint Valentines, it is unlikely that the way Valentine’s Day is celebrated today has anything to do with any of the saints (or their Gnostic namesake). In fact, the Catholic Church officially demoted Saint Valentine’s Day in 1969, to distance itself from the way the day is celebrated in popular culture. It was rebranded as Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius Day, with all the Valentines being struck off the list of saints celebrated on February 14th. So, Valentine’s Day is not actually St Valentine’s Day at all, any more…

What to do on Valentine’s Day

Things to do locally

  • If you study at Treforest you could go on a romantic walk without leaving the campus, by following the woodland walk

Putting in a bit more effort

Let’s face it, if you do something for Valentine’s Day, you might as well do it right. Restaurants? A box of chocolates? You can be more thoughtful than that (and more economical, too):

Valentine’s Day cards

One of the most common customs of Valentine’s Day is the giving of cards. On Valentine’s Day you can hand cards with fond messages to the (hopefully only one) person you are romantically interested in. To make it extra special, you could try your hand at writing a little poetry or just simply let the person know what they mean to you and why you love them. If you’re feeling creative, you can try making the card yourself, rather than using a shop-bought one!

Some people would have you believe that the best kind of card comes attached to giant boxes of chocolates, bunches of flowers, tickets to romantic day-trip destinations or other romantic gifts. If you’ve ever wondered why some gifts are deemed romantic and others aren’t, here are a few historic factoids to impress your friends with:

  • The romance of flowers has its roots in their use as ‘floral language’ – a fashion fad popular with aristocrats in the 1700s, with roots in Persian customs. Each flower would have a meaning, and people with lots of leisure time were able to have entire conversations by means of flowers. One of the few ‘meanings’ that survives is that red roses are flowers of passion and love.
  • Chocolates are rumoured to have various effects, ranging from inducing happiness to acting as an aphrodisiac. These urban myths (or traditional beliefs, depending on who you ask) are exaggerations of some scientific truths – chocolate does contain some compounds that are linked to feelings of love in humans, but the digestive process hugely reduces their effectiveness.
  • Lace, found in wedding dresses, Valentine’s day decor and some lingerie, is apparently romantic because women’s handkerchiefs used to have lace around the edges. If a woman was interested in a man, she’d drop her handkerchief, allowing him to pick it up and giving them an excuse for formal introductions.

Given that you are currently living in Wales, you may be interested in giving a more local kind of surprise. One Welsh icon that’s on sale almost everywhere is the lovespoon. Each segment of it can have different symbols, and each symbol has a different meaning.