Kiss or Myth
"Je t'aime," "Ich liebe Dich," "Saya cinta padamu," "Te quiero"
Those simple words, "I Love You," in any language, are the common bond that unifies people from all corners of the world each and every Valentine's Day. Why is that, do you suppose? Why is this day so special? Why do we set February 14th aside to say "I Love You" to the ones we love?
After all, it's not an official holiday, and we DO tell them every other day - Valentine's Day is certainly a universal day of love.
There are many historically enscribed legends, which seem to have entwined a wonderfully romantic 'myth-truth" for our modern-day observance. These legends tell us that we can thank the Romans - and, of course, those renowned peace lovers of the 60's. For those of us who don't recall, there was a very prevelent "make love not war" philosophy that pervaded people's attitudes at that time. Everyone was far more interested in peace and love than in fighting wars that seemed irrelevant to them. Did I neglect to mention that this was in the 260's? That's right The third century A.D. lays claim to being the progeniture of our present day Valentine's Day traditions!!
We're told that Emperor Claudius II was trying to wage an important war, and he had no sense of humor about his constituents' hippy-like attitudes. He actually went so far as to ban marriage in an effort to keep his soldiers more objective and focused upon battle. This mandate worked just about as well as Prohibition did in the USA a few decades ago. Just tell someone they "can't" have something, and they'll find a way to get it. Needless to say, human nature hasn't changed all that much.
The Roman soldiers indeed found a way. They knew of a kindly priest named Valentine who believed in love and marriage. Valentine, as a Christian priest, was persecuted by Roman compatriots; but managed to perform many clandestine marriages before he was beheaded (on February 14th) for defying Claudius. Before his death, however, he is said to have sent the very first greeting to his jailer's daughter, signing it, "From Your Valentine." He was later named St. Valentine, in the name of love.
Another historic legend tells us that we may owe our modern observance of Valentine's Day to the antiquated Roman celebration of Lupercalia, an annual springtime festival of fertility and eroticism that honored Juno Fegruata, their goddess of 'feverish love,' also known as the goddess of "women and marriage." In mid-February, love billets would be drawn at random to partner men and women for feasting and frolicking, as lovebirds were professed to begin mating. Later criticized for its pagan overtones, this festival of "love lotteries" was revised by Christian leaders to encourage people to pay adulation to patron saints rather than their sweethearts. Naturally, this new ritual was not nearly as much fun as its lascivious predecessor was.
With Christianity in its infancy, the more accepted traditions held fast in Roman culture. Polytheism, belief in many gods, was a common way of life that was still mandated by the Emperor. Some of these gods and goddesses were true champions of love. Venus, the Roman goddess of Love, and her son Cupid, a modern day vestige of these legends, are both well known to us. Cupid, with his loving arrow piercing through one's heart, is said to cause his recipient to fall in love forever.
What, then, has transpired in the last 1700 years? Valentine's Day traditions certainly have evolved throughout the centuries, though we still retain some aspects of these early legends. This annual day of romance is now celebrated in countries such as: Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, the USA, among many others.
British and Italian cultures both have documented traditions in which unmarried women arise before dawn on Valentine's Day, and sit by a window to watch for a man to pass. Their belief is that the first man they see, or someone like him, will marry them within the year. Shakespeare alluded to Valentine's Day in both "Hamlet," and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (around 1600). The English continue to love this holiday, and celebrate with festive songs and gifts for loved ones, while Italians still hold a Valentine's Day feast.
The Valentine's Day greeting card actually spread congruously with Christianity. One of the earliest known is now on display in a British museum. It was sent by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife in 1415. The custom of sending a note or card has gradually become the most common way to deliver a romantic message to one's sweetheart.. During the 1700's and 1800's, books called "Valentine Writers" were the norm. Messages were written in them and sent to loved ones on Valentine's Day each year. The first commercial Valentine cards were available in the 1800's, and have since evolved to today's vast array of animated - musical - singing - cyber greetings. Greeting card companies now report that their second highest annual business comes from Valentine's Day, and that women purchase a resounding 85% of their cards to send via "snail mail." Men, on the other hand, are the primary takers for chocolates and roses each year.
Our modern day customs still include some aspects of these wonderful historical legends and folklore. Cupid is still with us, always looking for new lovers whose hearts he can pierce. Hearts and roses are practically synonymous with Valentine's Day. Lovebirds and doves abound on our Valentine greetings.
To say it all in five words or less "Ti amo," "Eg elskar deg," "Kimi o ai shiteru," or "I Love You," It makes absolutely no difference. On February 14th everyone's a lover, and everyone's loved. There are so many stories and legends about the history of this "loverly" day, it's impossible to know what's truth and what's myth. In the end, who really cares?