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Why Do We Celebrate Valentine's Day and What's All The Fuss About?
Valentine's day falls every year on the 14th of February. In this day and age it is a holiday dedicated to love, lovers, affection, and, on occasion, desperation as well. No other holiday inspires quite so much optimism in people who feel that on this one day, every year, they are given the chance to pursue their true love unbound by the normal rules of human decency. Thus adorned with hearts, bows, flowers, chocolates, and all manner of pink and red our noble hero marches toward certain humiliation. Why he believes that he could possibly live up to the expectations of his heart's desire set running rampant by viral videos of romance and reruns of The Bachelor are beyond comprehension. Why he believes tactics that would be mocked ruthlessly on any other day are suddenly rendered effective remains shrouded in layers of mystery built up over centuries. Yet every year, our heroes buy super-sweetened greeting cards, make frantic phone calls to secure a dinner reservation, and search desperately for the perfect bouquet that will show that their love, unlike the flowers, will never die. Like many holidays, we assume that the traditions we have now have always been a part of the celebration of the holiday, as if Jesus himself sprung forth from the grave on Easter riding a large bunny and throwing marshmallow peeps to the masses. A careful study, however, reveals that the traditions we know today are all relatively new additions to a holiday that was officially sanctioned by Pope Gelasius in 496 A.D. While hard to believe, Pope Gelasius did not announce the beginning of St. Valentine's day via small, folded cards with Justin Bieber's face on them. Nor did he write his proclimation speech in a "Roses are red, Violets are blue" poem. And, although a source of much debate, he did not deliver 'be mine' candy hearts to his cardinals either.
Valentine, or Valentinus, or Valentinius, Valentinuscious, or whatever latin sounding ending you'd like to add to his name was a real person. In fact he was a lot of real people. Turns out that Valentine was a pretty common name back in the day when humans didn't have much history and we were making up stories about people to see how long they would last (around 150-250 A.D.). There are not one, but at least two Valentine's that are technically celebrated on the 14th of February. Although they lived a century apart, the lines got so blurry between each of these martyrs that the Catholic Church just sort of lumped them both together and celebrated their common day of martyrdom. In 1969 Pope Paul VI removed St. Valentine's day from the official calendar of feasts because he didn't get enough valentines in the envelope he taped to the front of his desk.
There are so many myths and legends surrounding St. Valentine that you could probably make one up, publish it on the internet and some idiot would eventually use it in an article about Valentine's Day. Being above such things, we will only discuss the three major myths of the origins of Saint Valentine.
1) Valentine was an early Christian Priest. In order to distinguish himself from all the other priests named Valentine he challenged Emperor Claudius II to a duel of words (i.e. he was captured and interrogated because being named Valentine was a crime at the time due to its future role in the naming of a ridiculous holiday). They debated, with Claudius attempting to convert Valentine to paganism and Valentine attempting to convert Claudius to Christianity. After the dust settled Claudius was so impressed by Valentine that he had him immediately fed to lions, or beheaded, or maybe both.
2) Valentine was an early Christian Priest. Emperor Claudius II passed a law that said that all young men were not allowed to be married so that they would be better soldiers in his army. Valentine ruined the chances of all the older men by performing secret marriages of young men and women. Being an older man himself, Claudius had Valentine immediately fed to lions, or beheaded, or maybe both.
3) While he was in jail awaiting his immediate death by lions, or beheading, or both, Valentine befriended the jailer and his blind daughter. Before his immediate death Valentine healed the jailer's daughter's sight and wrote her a letter that he signed, "from your Valentine". Cue the 'awwwwwwwws' now. This is probably the myth you'll want to use to impress your date.
Like so many things, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. February 14th was already the pagan holiday of "Lupercalia" which was dedicated to fertility and the goddess Juno. Christians sought to extinguish all naughty behavior and therefore Lupercalia needed to be eradicated. In true early Christian fashion the Church set up a new holiday on the same day (it essentially threw a slightly less cool party and if you didn't come you would be killed). Concurrently running holidays was the Christian way of whitewashing pagan holidays out of existence (Christmas near the winter solstice, Easter near the equinox, etc.). Unfortunately what it did is muddle up a martyr who was probably killed for defending his faith with love and sex and procreating like rabbits in the spring. So now we have hearts, fat little babies with bows and arrows, roses, and sky-high expectations that most guys will never be able to attain.
However you choose to celebrate it, hopefully this article shed a little light on the origins Valentine's day for you or at least made you laugh a little bit. Just remember that if you really love someone, you should just tell them so today and not just because Hallmark told you to. Love is something to be expressed each and every day and you certainly don't need a bouquet of roses and chocolates to do so. Have a great Valentine's Day!