Saint Valentine's Day....
As most historians agree, Valentine’s Day has been celebrated in one form or another for nearly 2,000 years. Nowadays, more gift card purchases are made for Valentine’s Day than any other nationally recognized holiday except Christmas (141 million in total). However, when trying to find out exactly how the popular holiday came to be, one runs into a few barriers. In fact, due to a lack of clear records, historians generally agree there is no one “right” answer to how the “day of love” began, yet there are several seemingly romanticized tales or legends that could actually be true.
At the core of each of the stories stands St. Valentine or Valentinus of Rome, a man traditionally believed to have been executed by Roman authorities during February due to his “rebellious” religious beliefs.
In one tale, Valentine is a priest serving Rome during the 3rd Century. During this time, Claudius II, the Emperor of Rome, decreed that marriages were to be banned for young men. His reasoning: men without romantic or familial connections to women and children made better soldiers. The young men he banned from getting married would come to be his military force. However, the tale contends that St. Valentine, as well as many other Roman citizens, saw the law as unjust and inhuman. Therefore, Valentine continued to marry lovers in secret, which, at the time, was regarded as high treason against the state. After an unspecified period of time, Claudius II discovered Valentine’s clandestine practice and sentenced him to death. In effect, Valentine died trying to save love.
Other tales state that Valentine was executed for helping Christians escape brutal Roman prisons, though this theory is seemingly no more accounted for than other tales.
However, one of the more popular stories behind the holiday is derived from Valentine’s own stay in Roman prisons. In this tale, Valentine sends the first “valentine” greeting in history.
As the story goes, Valentine falls deeply in love with a young girl while he is awaiting execution in prison. In fact, some versions of this particular tale say the girl was the daughter of Valentine’s jailer. Regardless, each version says that the girl came to talk and visit with Valentine every day, creating a strong, loving bond with the saintly figure in a short amount of time. Yet, in the so-called eleventh hour before his execution, the legend says that Valentine wrote his lover one final letter, which he signed, “From your Valentine.”
Even though these tales, along with a few others, are not completely verified by actual record, the portrayal of Valentine as a loving, heroic, and romantic person has evidently remained intact for centuries. In fact, during medieval times in England and France, tales of Valentine’s rebellion in the name of love made him one of the most popular saints according to several accounts.
With these tales taken into account, many believe that the holiday falls in the middle of February to memorialize Valentine’s death or burial (believed to have happened around 270 A.D.).
Though there are other theories as to why we celebrate Valentine’s Day, these tales are perhaps the most meaningful to many across the nation. So when you’re enjoying the day with your special someone, just remember that the bond you share might have once come at a very high cost.
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