Sunday, February 14, 2010

Have you ever wondered ...

Have you ever wondered how this red and pink heart-filled, card-sending, candy-giving, love song-playing holiday for lovers started? I never really cared. I was just happy to get my box of chocolates, hear professions of my sweetheart’s undying love and enjoy my steak dinner. That is until I heard a piece of the history surrounding the infamous day of love from a movie rightly named “Valentine’s Day”.

I suppose since it happened so long ago that the exact details of its true beginning are a bit sketchy, but it is said that Valentine’s Day began with a priest named Valentine who lived during the reign of Roman emperor Claudius II (nicknamed “Claudius the Cruel”).

Way back in 270 A.D. Claudius II was also having trouble getting men to join his armies. The emperor realized that the married men did not want to leave their wives to serve in the military, and many of the single men had sweethearts or girlfriends that they, too, did not want to be away from. In order to correct this problem he ordered that no more marriages were to be performed and that all engagements were to be annulled. Valentine understood the sanctity of marriage as a part of God’s plan for humanity; he disobeyed the emperor and secretly married Christian couples.
Of course Claudius found out about Valentine’s disobedience and ordered his arrest. While waiting in jail, Valentine began exchanging letters with the jailer’s daughter and soon fell in love with her. The day he was to be killed, he wrote her one last note and signed it: ‘From Your Valentine’. The priest was then beaten with clubs and beheaded. His death was said to have occurred on February 14, 270 A.D.

But ...

The start of Valentine's Day can also be traced back to the Lupercalia festival. It was a festival, celebrated in ancient Rome every spring (Feb. 15th) and held in honor of the God of Fertility. It seems that young Roman men would parade around the city, whipping the available young women with strips from the hides of sacrificed goats. The whippings were supposed to protect against infertility and bad luck. Later, the young men would draw the names of these same available young women from a box. The name the young man drew would become his lover.

Luckily for the so-called “available young women” Pope Gelasius banned this practice in the 5th century and deemed that St. Valentine was the saint of love. Gelasius also replaced the names of women in the “love lottery” with names of saints, whom the young men would study during the upcoming year.

*Side note: Although the festival was celebrated in the spring, the word February comes from the word Februa, which referred to the strips of goat hide that the guys used to whip the girls with and means purification. Now doesn't that just make your heart go pitter-patter?
Some more interesting (yet random) facts about this day full of love, chocolates, roses and cards:
  1. Birds and fowl supposedly select their mates on February 14th.
  2. Richard Cadbury invented the first Valentines Day candy box in the late 1868.
  3. Over 1 billion Valentine's cards are exchanged in the U.S each year. It's the largest seasonal card-sending occasion of the year, next to Christmas.
  4. 73% of people who buy flowers for Valentine's Day are men; only 27% are women.
  5. About 3% of pet owners will give Valentine's gifts to their pets.
  6. Approximately 110 million roses, the majority of which are red, will be sold and delivered within a three-day time period and 60% of those come from California.
  7. In order of popularity, Valentine's Day cards are given to teachers, children, mothers, wives, sweethearts and pets.
  8. Cupid (symbol for Roman God of love), doves, love birds, roses, hearts and arrows are all symbols of the Valentine’s Day celebration.
  9. According to U.S. candy manufacturers, 36 million boxes of chocolate are sold and Americans spend more than $1,105 million each Valentine's Day on candy.
  10. Women buy 85% of all valentines.

There is a dark footnote that must be added to the history of this special day. The date: Valentines Day 1929. The place: Chicago. The event: The St. Valentines Day Massacre. It is still not completely clear who all the players involved were and what the exact motives were, but this much is known: seven men were viciously gunned down in a Chicago garage. The men who did the shooting were dressed as police officers and were members of Al Capone’s gang. The men who were shot were of a rival bootlegging operation. This was a blood-red day during Prohibition.

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